Linked by joekiser on Fri 3rd Mar 2017 22:24 UTC
Mozilla & Gecko clones

So I'd like to tell you my version of the story of Firefox OS, from the birth of the Boot to Gecko open source software project as a mailing list post and an empty GitHub repository in 2011, through its commercial launch as the Firefox OS mobile operating system, right up until the "transition" of millions of lines of code to the community in 2016.

During this five year journey hundreds of members of the wider Mozilla community came together with a shared vision to disrupt the app ecosystem with the power of the open web. I'd like to reflect on our successes, our failures and the lessons we can learn from the experience of taking an open source browser based mobile operating system to market.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 3rd Mar 2017 11:06 UTC
Apple

Apple is losing its grip on American classrooms, which technology companies have long used to hook students on their brands for life.

Over the last three years, Apple's iPads and Mac notebooks - which accounted for about half of the mobile devices shipped to schools in the United States in 2013 - have steadily lost ground to Chromebooks, inexpensive laptops that run on Google's Chrome operating system and are produced by Samsung, Acer and other computer makers.

Mobile devices that run on Apple's iOS and MacOS operating systems have now reached a new low, falling to third place behind both Google-powered laptops and Microsoft Windows devices, according to a report released on Thursday by Futuresource Consulting, a research company.

That's got to sting. Out of the many reasons why ChromeBooks are way more successful than iPads in classrooms - they are cheaper, easier to manage, and so on - this is the one you're going to need to remember:

Then there is the keyboard issue. While school administrators generally like the iPad’s touch screens for younger elementary school students, some said older students often needed laptops with built-in physical keyboards for writing and taking state assessment tests.

My oh my, I wonder what Apple could do to remedy this.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 3rd Mar 2017 01:06 UTC
Games

The Switch is a console sandwiched between a bar of success lowered by the disaster of the Wii U and the considerable ground Nintendo must make up.

Compared to the Wii U on its merits, the Switch is a slam dunk. It takes the basic concept of the Wii U, of a tablet-based console, and fulfills the promise of it in a way Nintendo simply wasn’t capable of realizing in 2012. It’s launching with a piece of software that, more than anything in the Wii U’s first year, demonstrates its inherent capability of delivering what Nintendo says is one of the Switch’s primary missions: a big-budget, AAA game that exists across a handheld device and a television-connected portable. The hardware lives up to its name in how easily and smoothly it moves between those two worlds, in how dead simple it all is to make something pretty magical happen.

I am genuinely excited by the Switch, and the prospects it brings to the table. I'm worried about the lineup of games - or lack thereof, really - so I'm not going to jump in straight away. The reviews of the device and its launch Zelda title are positive, though, so I'm looking forward to what Nintendo has in store for the Switch.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Mar 2017 22:49 UTC
Android

Android Studio 2.3 has been released.

We are most excited about the quality improvements in Android Studio 2.3 but you will find a small set of new features in this release that integrate into each phase of your development flow. When designing your app, take advantage of the updated WebP support for your app images plus check out the updated ConstraintLayout library support and widget palette in the Layout Editor. As you are developing, Android Studio has a new App Link Assistant which helps you build and have a consolidated view of your URIs in your app. While building and deploying your app, use the updated run buttons for a more intuitive and reliable Instant Run experience. Lastly, while testing your app with the Android Emulator, you now have proper copy & paste text support.

I hear a lot of negativity regarding Android Studio, but since I'm not a developer, I can't really make heads or tails of it. Is it really as bad as some people make it out to be?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Mar 2017 21:03 UTC
AMD

The AMD Zen/Ryzen reviews and benchmarks are hitting the web (Ars has a review and a look at the Zen architecture, Tom's Hardware has a review, and there's bound to be more), but as always, the one you want is AnandTech's (they also have an interview with AMD's CEO):

For over two years the collective AMD vs Intel personal computer battle has been sitting on the edge of its seat. Back in 2014 when AMD first announced it was pursuing an all-new microarchitecture, old hands recalled the days when the battle between AMD and Intel was fun to be a part of, and users were happy that the competition led to innovation: not soon after, the Core microarchitecture became the dominant force in modern personal computing today. Through the various press release cycles from AMD stemming from that original Zen announcement, the industry is in a whipped frenzy waiting to see if AMD, through rehiring guru Jim Killer and laying the foundations of a wide and deep processor team for the next decade, can hold the incumbent to account. With AMD’s first use of a 14nm FinFET node on CPUs, today is the day Zen hits the shelves and benchmark results can be published: Game On!

Gaming performance seems to lag behind Intel, while for workstation tasks, it has them beat. For me, an upgrade to Ryzen from my i5-4440 would amount to a total sum of about €900 (processor, motherboard, RAM, and cooling), so I'm going to wait it out for now - especially since gaming is what my processor is most used for. That being said - give it a year, and Ryzen will be up there on all fronts with Intel's best, but at a lower price point.

AMD is definitely back, and I'm very excited to see what competition will bring to the market.

 

Linked by nfeske on Wed 1st Mar 2017 22:15 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

The just released version 17.02 of the Genode OS framework comes with greatly enhanced virtual file-system capabilities, eases the creation of dynamic system compositions, and adds a new facility for processing user input. Furthermore, the components have become binary-compatible across kernel boundaries by default such that entire system scenarios can be moved from one kernel to another without recompiling the components.

Genode's virtual file-system (VFS) infrastructure has a twisted history. Originally created as a necessity for enabling command-line-based GNU programs to run within Genode's custom Unix runtime, the VFS was later extracted as a separate library. This library eventually became an optional and later intrinsic part of Genode's C runtime. It also happened to become the basis of a file-system-server component. If this sounds a bit confusing, it probably is. But the resulting design takes the notion of virtual file systems to an new level.

First, instead of providing a system-wide VFS like Unix does, in Genode each component can have its own VFS. Technically, it is a library that turns a number of Genode sessions into a file-system representation according the component's configuration. Via those sessions, the component is able to access services provided by other components such as file systems, terminals, or block devices. Furthermore, several built-in file systems are provided locally from within the component. Since the VFS is local to each component, the view of the component's world can be shaped by its parent in arbitrary ways.

By default, each component runs in isolation. Whenever two components are meant to share a certain part of their VFS with one another, both mount a file-system session of the same server into their local VFS. This sharing is a deliberate decision by the component's common parent and thereby subjected to the parent's security policy. One particularly interesting file-system server is the so-called VFS server. It uses an arbitrarily configured VFS internally and exports its content as a file-system service, which can then be mounted in other components. This way, the VFS server can be used to emulate a "global" VFS, or to multiplex access to any file-system types supported by the VFS.

Speaking of supported file-system types, this is where the VFS becomes literally infinitely flexible. The VFS features a plugin interface that incorporates file system types provided in the form of shared libraries. If the VFS configuration refers to a file system type not known by the VFS, a corresponding plugin is loaded. For example, there exists a plugin for generating random numbers based of the jitter of CPU execution time. The file system, when mounted, hosts only a single read-only file that produces random numbers. But VFS plugins can become much more creative. Via the rump-kernel VFS plugin, one can incorporate the file systems of the NetBSD kernel into any VFS-using component. Genode 17.02 furthermore comes with a Plan-9-inspired VFS plugin that makes the Linux TCP/IP stack available as a file system. The C runtime then translates BSD-socket API calls to file-system operations on the socket file system, which, in turn, are handled by the Linux TCP/IP stack. The fascinating part is that this all happens within a single component. Such a component is in fact quite similar to a unikernel.

If two applications ought to share the same TCP/IP stack, the VFS server comes in handy. The Linux TCP/IP stack is then mounted once in the VFS server, which, in turn, provides file-system sessions to the applications. Each application then accesses the TCP/IP stack indirectly through those file-system sessions. In this scenario, the VFS server suddenly becomes a network multiplexer.

The VFS is not the only topic of the current release. Another highlight is the introduction of a application binary interface that makes all components binary compatible across kernel boundaries by default. Combined with the new kernel-independent build directories, it has become possible to move complete system scenarios from kernels as different as L4, NOVA, seL4, or Linux in matter of seconds. Further improvements of Genode 17.02 are the addition of a generic input-event processor, new SD-card drivers, the update to the version 0.8 of the Muen separation kernel, and a new mechanism for managing dynamic subsystems. All the improvements are described in detail in the release documentation.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 1st Mar 2017 11:20 UTC
Apple

Tim Cook, during a shareholder meeting, when asked about a possible future convergence of macOS and iOS:

"Expect us to do more and more where people will view [the iPad] as a laptop replacement, but not a Mac replacement - the Mac does so much more," he said. "To merge these worlds, you would lose the simplicity of one, and the power of the other."

Oh really now.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 1st Mar 2017 08:37 UTC, submitted by Alfman
Internet & Networking

The Republican-controlled FCC on Thursday suspended the net neutrality transparency requirements for broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers. Critics called the decision anticonsumer.

The transparency rule, waived for five years in a 2-1 party-line vote Thursday, requires broadband providers to explain to customers their pricing models and fees as well as their network management practices and the impact on broadband service.

The commission had previously exempted ISPs with fewer than 100,000 subscribers, but Thursday's decision expands the number of ISPs not required to inform customers. Only about 20 U.S. ISPs have more than 250,000 subscribers.

What could possibly go wrong?

The five-year waiver may be moot, however. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Republicans in Congress are considering ways to scrap a large chunk of the net neutrality regulations approved by the agency just two years ago.

Is it just me, or is the undoing of the opposing party's policies every 4-8 years a really terrible way to run a country?

 

Linked by Alfman on Wed 1st Mar 2017 08:30 UTC
Privacy, Security, Encryption

From the EFF:

On February 23rd, a joint team from the CWI Amsterdam and Google announced that they had generated the first ever collision in the SHA-1 cryptographic hashing algorithm. SHA-1 has long been considered theoretically insecure by cryptanalysts due to weaknesses in the algorithm design, but this marks the first time researchers were actually able to demonstrate a real-world example of the insecurity. In addition to being a powerful Proof of Concept (POC), the computing power that went into generating the proof was notable.

So what's the big deal?

Unfortunately, the migration away from SHA-1 has not been universal. Some programs, such as the version control system Git, have SHA-1 hard-baked into its code. This makes it difficult for projects which rely on Git to ditch the algorithm altogether. The encrypted e-mail system PGP also relies on it in certain places.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 27th Feb 2017 23:45 UTC
Windows

The latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build doesn't add much in the way of features - it's mostly just bug fixes - but one small new feature has been spotted, and it could be contentious. Vitor Mikaelson noticed that the latest build lets you restrict the installation of applications built using the Win32 API.

The Settings app has three positions: allow apps from anywhere (the default), allow apps from anywhere but prefer apps from the Store, and only allow apps from the Store. Put in its most restrictive third position, this setting will block the installation of traditional Win32 applications; only those shipped through the Store using the Project Centennial technology will work. Interestingly, the switch only appears to govern installation. Changing the setting to "Store apps only" will allow existing Win32 applications to work, only preventing new ones from being installed.

You can feel both Apple and Microsoft struggling with the balance between store-only and free-for-all.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 27th Feb 2017 23:39 UTC, submitted by malxau
General Development

In this article we'll walk through an example of how to interpret a closed source program, how to analyze its behavior, and how to ultimately alter that behavior to do what we want. These techniques are well known within many circles, but few tutorials exist to help people get started. The context for this example investigation is the linker's subsystem field generation, but the techniques can be applied to other problems that seem interesting.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 27th Feb 2017 23:25 UTC
Apple

The Apple engineers were smart when they were building their MessagePads. The MessagePad required an immense 8MB of storage for the Newton operating system. In the 90's, flash memory was extremely expensive, so they had to use ROM chips that were mass-produced and could never be updated. But they knew that they would have changes to their firmware until release day, and they would need to able to fix bugs even after the machine was sold.

They came up with three solutions.

[...]

If all else fails, MessagePads have their ROM chips sitting on a daughter board, a small additional cicuit board that is fitted into a common (at that time) connector and can be changed without tools after opening the case.

[...]

Anyway, wouldn't it be fantastic to create a souped-up ROM board? 8MB Flash and 8MB NewtonOS, also in Flash, being able to patch it, fix it, extend it, have fun. Maybe have even more that 16MB if that is possible. Is it possible? How can we find out?

An early draft of the licensee information for this ROM card exists, but it is not detailed enough to build such a card. Before starting a patch wire solution, I wanted to know how the original board worked, and then fill in the missing information in that draft.

Well, I went all the way and reverse engineered the entire ROM board. Here are my findings.

Amazing work.

 

Linked by paolone on Mon 27th Feb 2017 00:10 UTC
Amiga & AROS

After many years of active development, AROS finally seems to be able to 'evolve' the now 30+ years old architecture of the Amiga API. The original Amiga computers from Commodore brought to home users and professionals the first pre-emptive, window based operating system at affordable prices, although its kernel was tailored to the single Motorola 68000 CPU mounted on the machines. After Commodore's demise in 1994, a long debate started about the evolution of the Amiga platform and, although many announcements were made, current AmigaOS 4.1 is still a 32bit-based, single-core oriented operating system, and the same is true for Amiga-like alternatives MorphOS and AROS.

Things, however, are changing. In his weekly survey about AROS progress on AROS-EXEC.org and Amigaworld.net, Krzysztof Smiechowicz talked about "Work on handling additional CPU cores in x86_64 AROS kernel", adding "Initial version of SMP scheduler has been introduced in AROS i386/x86_64 kernel" just a week later. In the following weeks, a screenshot from coder Nick Andrews and a video on Youtube showed a 64-bit version of AROS, runnning on multicore AMD and Intel processors, handling 4 and 8 cores correctly.

SMP is being added to AROS by experienced coders Nick Andrews and Michal Schulz, and while it is not available in public nightly builds just yet, there is finally the chance to see an Amiga-like operating system handling modern CPUs properly.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 27th Feb 2017 00:03 UTC
Android

One other phone I want to highlight out of MWC in Barcelona: a new BlackBerry Android phone! With a proper hardware keyboard! The BlackBerry Priv from 2015 suffered from some performance issues, so I hope they get it right this time.

Now that the BlackBerry KEYone is official, that means the full run down of specs are available now as well. For the KEYone, every component of the device, including the Snapdragon 625 was specifically chosen with the goal of lengthening the battery life in mind. Mind you, the battery itself is the largest ever put in a BlackBerry, (3505 mAh) so we're already off to a great start.

It looks nice, too. Very intrigued by this phone.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 26th Feb 2017 23:56 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Nokia unveiled its new lineup of phones, and there's definitely some good stuff in here. The Nokia 3, 5, and 6 are very understated Android phones with modest specifications, but with one huge selling point: stock Android, with Google security updates. Nokia is really touting it as a feature, too, which is music to my ears. The phones are not extravagant, don't come loaded with crapware or useless features, and do exactly what it says on the tin.

In addition, the company released a new Nokia 3310:

Nokia has sold 126 million of its original 3310 phone since it was first introduced back in September, 2000. It was a time before the iPhone, and Nokia ruled with popular handsets that let you play simple games like Snake. Now the 3310 is making a nostalgic return in the form of a more modern variant, thanks to Nokia-branded phone maker HMD. Like its predecessor, it will still be called the Nokia 3310, but this time it’s running Nokia’s Series 30+ software, with a 2.4-inch QVGA display, a 2-megapixel camera, and even a microSD slot.

I'm a little underwhelmed by this phone - not because of its specifications or anything, because those are exactly as I expected and wanted from this phone. No, I miss one crucial thing: it doesn't have WhatsApp (or WeChat, for that matter, for our Chinese friends), and you obviously can't install it either. WhatsApp is the backbone - for better or worse, I didn't choose this to be so, don't blame me, etc. etc. - of mobile communications in The Netherlands and much of the rest of the world, and without it, I literally have no use for this phone, not even as a backup phone.

Very strange omission indeed, but other than that - it looks great.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Fri 24th Feb 2017 23:31 UTC
Apple

If you listen to Apple podcasts - and you really should, because ATP and Gruber's The Talkshow are a delight to listen to, even if it's sometimes infuriatingly inaccurate about Windows, Android, and Linux - you would know there's a lot of talk going on about what Apple is going to do to 'salvage' the iPad, and what Apple is going to do - if anything - to replace the Mac Pro. They sometimes take it a step further, and go into what the future of macOS and iOS is going to - will they continue to exist side-by-side? Will macOS be tightened up and made more like iOS, or will iOS be expanded to make it more like macOS?

These questions arise from Apple's seeming indifference towards the iPad, and the obvious situation with the lack of updates for the Mac Pro, the Mac Mini, and to a lesser degree even the iMac. On top of that, the rumour mill is running in overdrive, and it further fuel the fires of these discussions.

I've been thinking about this a lot these past few months, and I've been talking to people who know their Apple stuff, and the more I take a step back and look at all the discussions, rumours, and Apple's actions - and lack thereof - the more obvious it becomes: it seems like Apple is about to completely redefine its infamous product matrix.

In case you don't remember, back in the late '90s, Steve Jobs showed the following product matrix:

The old Apple product matrix.

Before I show you what I think Apple is going to do, here are a few reasons underpinning it, in list form:

  • The Mac Pro was introduced to much fanfare, but hasn't been updated in - as of writing - more than three years.

  • Likewise, the Mac Mini hasn't been updated in well over two years.

  • The MacBook Air - the number one crowd pleaser among non-techy buyers - hasn't been updated in two years.

  • The iMac hasn't been updated in over 18 months.

  • Apple told Nilay Patel that the company is out of the standalone display business. If true, the logical extension of this would be that Apple is out of the headless Mac business. As John Gruber noted in the latest The Talkshow episode - do you really think Apple is going to put ugly LG monitors in its brand new, meticulously designed headquarters?

  • The rumour mill claims Apple is expected to expand its iPad lineup even further, with more Pro models.

  • iPads - even the basic models - have an insane amount of computing power, and newer models have lots of RAM and crazy fast processors. What for? To watch Netflix? I don't think so.

  • And last but not least: Apple debuted a number of new commercials last week, in which the company positions the iPad not as a companion device, but as your only device, touting its productivity features such as Microsoft Office support.

Add all this up, and I'm getting the feeling Apple is working towards a product matrix that looks more like this:

The new Apple product matrix.

The basic gist is that I feel Apple is slowly but surely working towards positioning iOS computers as its consumer line, and macOS computers as its pro line.

Since I can already hear people tapping away at their keyboards about Xcode this and consumption device that - it's important to note that what is iOS today will be very different from what will be iOS in the future. iOS surely has its limitations right now - specifically things like awkward and cumbersome file management, no proper windowing, etc. - but there's no reason to assume that what iOS looks and feels like today is what it'll look and feel like forever.

A lot of people are exploring what an IDE and related software will look like on iOS (just follow Steven Troughton-Smith and Federico Viticci on Twitter - they talk a lot about production-oriented iPad applications). The problem here isn't that iOS can't do complex applications - the problem is that the application ecosystem isn't conducive to such complex applications, which is quite a big hole Apple dug itself into by letting the App Store model ravage the indie developer scene, race all prices to the bottom of the barrel, and creating the expectation that everything is either 99 cents or free.

Another issue easily spotted in the product matrix is that the iPad Pro awkwardly sits in the desktop line, even though it clearly isn't a desktop device. It could very well be that we'll eventually see an iOS desktop or desktop-like device, but I honestly don't think it's worth the effort. People have overwhelmingly voted with their wallets, and portable computing has resoundingly won.

If this hunch of iOS = consumer, macOS = pro does indeed pan out, I don't expect it to happen overnight; in fact, it will most likely take several years, in a way where you barely notice it's even happening. We should be seeing a heavier emphasis on things like iPad keyboards, which may even include 'hard shell' keyboards which effectively turn them into laptops. On the software side, we should see things like mouse and trackpad support, improved multitasking (perhaps even some form of windowing), and improved file management. Of course, this would be accompanied by a marketing campaign more heavily focused on positioning the iPad as an all-round device capable of replacing your laptop.

Looking at the evidence I listed above, the conversations I've had with people who know Apple really well, and the Apple podcasts I've been listening to, I feel like this is a plausible future for Apple. I obviously don't have any insider information or anything like that - this is all based on gut feeling, some common sense, and the listed evidence. This is not a prediction, and not an "Apple must do this, or else"-kind of thing - just something I've been piecing together these past few months.

This year, 2017, will make or break a lot of this stuff.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 24th Feb 2017 11:02 UTC, submitted by AmiKit
Amiga & AROS

Looking for an easy way to install AmigaOS 4? We made everything as easy as possible to emulate AmigaOS 4.1 on your Windows or Mac.

Basically, Flower Pot makes the process of installing AamigaOS 4 on Windows or macOS using WinUAE as easy as possible. All you need is the AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition ISO (the version for Classic!) and required ROM files, and the rest is automated. This means that the only way to legally get this up and running is to not only buy AmigaOS 4 for Classic (which is not that expensive at €25), but also to somehow get the Amiga 4000 ROM. My first thought was that other than extracting said ROM yourself, the only other way to get it was to buy Amiga Forever - but I'm not sure Amiga Forever contains the required ROM, which may mean you have to sail the seven seas to get it (Update: Amiga Forever supports it!)

In any event, I'm interested in getting this up and running, since buying an actual Amiga system is prohibitively expensive.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 23rd Feb 2017 00:10 UTC
Google

Turns out the processor/SoC in the latest two ChromeBooks - the Samsung models - are part of a wider program by Google.

The OP1 is built by Rockchip, which has made ARM processors for a while and isn't especially well-regarded among US consumers. And, strangely enough, even discovering that Rockchip makes the OP1 took a bit of sleuthing. The company doesn't have its brand anywhere near the Chromebook Plus. Also, the chip is called the OP1, which implies that there's going to be an OP2 and OP3 and so on. What exactly is going on here? Just what is OP?

Well! Turns out there's a website for answering that exact question, helpfully named whatisop.com. OP is a designation for SoCs that are optimized for Chrome OS. Naturally, I assumed it was a Rockchip brand - but that's not the case at all. And the website ostensibly designed to explain OP to us doesn't tell us who owns it (and it's even registered anonymously), so OP strangely mysterious.

Mystery solved: OP is a trademark owned by Google, and bestowed on SoCs that meet a Google spec for a good Chrome OS device. Basically, if a Chromebook has an OP processor, it means that Google certifies that it’s been optimized for Chrome OS.

Everybody is racing towards ARM laptops. Intel's decision to sell Xscale is probably going to be looked back upon as one of the worst decisions in technology history.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 22nd Feb 2017 22:43 UTC
In the News

Not just one, but seven Earth-size planets that could potentially harbor life have been identified orbiting a tiny star not too far away, offering the first realistic opportunity to search for biological signs of alien life outside of the solar system.

The planets orbit a dwarf star named Trappist-1, about 40 light years, or about 235 trillion miles, from Earth. That is quite close, and by happy accident, the orientation of the orbits of the seven planets allows them to be studied in great detail.

One or more of the exoplanets - planets around stars other than the sun - in this new system could be at the right temperature to be awash in oceans of water, astronomers said, based on the distance of the planets from the dwarf star.

Science is awesome.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 22nd Feb 2017 22:42 UTC
AMD

AMD's benchmarks showed that the top Ryzen 7 1800X, compared to the 8-core Intel Core i7-6900K, both at out-of-the-box frequencies, gives an identical score on the single threaded test and a +9% in the multi-threaded test. AMD put this down to the way their multi-threading works over the Intel design. Also, the fact that the 1800X is half of the price of the i7-6900K.

If these promises and benchmarks hold up, Intel will be facing some incredibly tough competition on the desktop/laptop side for the first time in a long, long time.