Microsoft tests ads in the Start menu

Building on top of recent improvements like grouping recently installed apps and showing your frequently used apps, we are now trying out recommendations to help you discover great apps from the Microsoft Store under Recommended on the Start menu. This will appear only for Windows Insiders in the Beta Channel in the U.S. and will not apply to commercial devices (devices managed by organizations). This can be turned off by going to Settings > Personalization > Start and turning off the toggle for “Show recommendations for tips, app promotions, and more”. As a reminder, we regularly try out new experiences and concepts that may never get released with Windows Insiders to get feedback. Should you see this experience on the Start menu, let us know what you think. We are beginning to roll this out to a small set of Insiders in the Beta Channel at first.

↫ Amanda Langowski and Brandon LeBlanc

The Start menu, August 24, 1995 – April 12, 2024. You made it almost 30 years, buddy.

Do not use Kagi

For quite a while now, you might have noticed various people recommending a search engine called “Kagi”. From random people on the internet, to prominent bloggers like John Gruber and David Pierce, they’ve all been pushing this seemingly new search engine as a paid-for alternative to Google that respects your privacy. Over the past few months to a year, though, more and more cracks started to appear in Kagi’s image, and I’ve been meaning to assemble those cracks and tie a bow on them.

Well, it turns out I don’t have to, because lori (I’m not aware of their full name, so I’ll stick to lori) already did it for me in a blog post titled “Why I lost faith in Kagi“. Even though I knew all of these stories, and even though I was intending to list them in more or less the same way, it’s still damning to see it all laid out so well (both the story itself, as well as the lovely, accessible, approachable, and simple HTML, but that’s neither here nor there).

Lori’s summary hits on all the pain points (but you should really read the whole thing):

Between the absolute blase attitude towards privacy, the 100% dedication to AI being the future of search, and the completely misguided use of the company’s limited funds, I honestly can’t see Kagi as something I could ever recommend to people. Is the search good? I mean…it’s not really much better than any other search, it heavily leverages Bing like DDG and the other indie search platforms do, the only real killer feature it has to me is the ability to block domains from your results, which I can currently only do in other search engines via a user script that doesn’t help me on mobile. But what good is filtering out all of the AI generated spamblogs on a search platform that wants to spit more AI generated bullshit at me directly? Sure I can turn it off, but who’s to say that they won’t start using my data to fuel their own LLM? They already have an extremely skewed idea of what counts as PII or not. They could easily see using people’s searches as being “anonymized” and decide they’re fine to use, because their primary business isn’t search, it’s AI.

↫ lori at lori’s blog

The examples underpinning all these pain points are just baffling, like how the company was originally an “AI” company, made a search engine that charges people for Bing results, and now is going full mask-off with countless terrible, non-working, privacy-invasive “AI” tools. Or that thing where the company spent one third of their funding round of $670,000 on starting a T-shirt company in Germany (Kagi is US-based) to print 20,000 free T-shirts for their users that don’t even advertise Kagi. Or that thing where they claimed they “forgot” to pay sales tax for two years and had to raise prices to pay their back taxes. And I can just keep on going.

To make matters worse, after publication of the blog post, Kagi’s CEO started harassing lori over email, and despite lori stating repeatedly they wanted him to stop emailing them, he just kept on going. Never a good look.

The worst part of it, though, is the lack of understanding about what privacy means, while telling their users they are super serious about it. Add to that the CEO’s “trust me, bro” attitude, their deals with the shady and homophobic crypto company Brave, and many other things, and the conclusion is that, no, your data is not safe at Kagi at all, and with their primary business being “AI” and not search, you know exactly what that means.

Do not use Kagi.

Amazon virtually kills efforts to develop Alexa Skills, disappointing dozens

There was a time when it thought that Alexa would yield a robust ecosystem of apps, or Alexa Skills, that would make the voice assistant an integral part of users’ lives. Amazon envisioned tens of thousands of software developers building valued abilities for Alexa that would grow the voice assistant’s popularity—and help Amazon make some money.

But about seven years after launching a rewards program to encourage developers to build Skills, Alexa’s most preferred abilities are the basic ones, like checking the weather. And on June 30, Amazon will stop giving out the monthly Amazon Web Services credits that have made it free for third-party developers to build and host Alexa Skills. The company also recently told devs that its Alexa Developer Rewards program was ending, virtually disincentivizing third-party devs to build for Alexa.

↫ Scharon Harding at Ars Technica

I’ve never used Alexa – Amazon doesn’t really have a footprint in either The Netherlands or Sweden, so I never really had to care – but I always thought the Skills were the reason it was so loved. It seemingly makes no sense to me to start killing off this feature, but then, I’m assuming Amazon has the data to back up the fact people aren’t using them.

It sucks, I guess? Can someone who uses Alexa fill in the blanks for me here?

Discord is nuking Nintendo Switch emulator devs and their entire servers

Discord has shut down the Discord servers for the Nintendo Switch emulators Suyu and Sudachi and has completely disabled their lead developers’ accounts — and the company isn’t answering our questions about why it went that far. Both Suyu and Sudachi began as forks of Yuzu, the emulator that Nintendo sued out of existence on March 4th.

↫ Sean Hollister at The Verge

This is exactly what people were worried about when Nintendo and Yuzu settled for millions of dollars. Even though it’s a settlement and not a court ruling, and even tough the code to Yuzu is entirely unaffected by the settlement and freely shareable and usable by anyone, and even though emulators are legal – the chilling effect this settlement is having is absolutely undeniable. Here we have Discord going far beyond its own official policy, without even giving the affected parties any recourse. It’s absolutely wild, and highlights just how dangerous it is to rely on Discord for, well, anything.

I wish that for once, we’d actually see a case related to console emulation go to court in either the EU or the US, to make it even clearer that yes, unless you distribute copyrighted code like game ROMs or console firmware, emulators are entirely legal and without any risk. You know, a recent court ruling we could point to to dissuade bullies like Nintendo from threatening innocent developers and ruining their lives because of entirely legal activities.

And let me reiterate: don’t use Discord as for anything other than basic chat. This platform ain’t got your back.

DwarfFS: a read-only compression file system

DwarFS is a read-only file system with a focus on achieving very high compression ratios in particular for very redundant data.

[…]

DwarFS also doesn’t compromise on speed and for my use cases I’ve found it to be on par with or perform better than SquashFS. For my primary use case, DwarFS compression is an order of magnitude better than SquashFS compression, it’s 6 times faster to build the file system, it’s typically faster to access files on DwarFS and it uses less CPU resources.

↫ DwarfFS GitHub page

DwarfFS supports both Linux, macOS, and Windows, but macOS and Windows support is experimental at this point. It seems to have higher compression ratios at faster speeds than various alternatives, so if you have a use case for compression file systems – give DwarfFS a look.

OpenBSD is a cozy operating system

With the recent release of OpenBSD 7.5, I decided to run through my personal OpenBSD “installer” for laptop/desktop devices. The project is built off of the dwm tiling window manager and only installs a few basic packages. The last time I updated it was with the release of 7.3, so it’s been due for an minor rework.

While making these minor changes, I remembered how incredibly easy the entire install process for OpenBSD is and how cozy the entire operating system feels. All the core systems just work out the box. Yes, you need to “patch” in WiFi with a firmware update, so you’ll need an Ethernet connection during the initial setup. Yes, the default desktop environment is not intuitive or ideal for newcomers.

But the positives heavily outweigh the negatives (in my opinion).

↫ Bradley Taunt

OpenBSD has a very dedicated community, and I’ve noticed they tend to be very helpful and friendly. It’s making me curious about trying it out, and both this article and the helpful posts it links to will be a great way to start.

Android 15 Beta 1 is here, but details are still under wraps

After two months of developer previews, Google has finally released Android 15 Beta 1. While the beta usually offers more user-facing changes, Google is still pretty light on details with this build, giving us only a few more details on what we can expect. Instead, the company is pointing to Google I/O for more details, which will take place on May 14 this year, basically confirming that this is when we will get the second beta with more features.

↫ Manuel Vonau

There’s very little of interest in this beta, so unless you’re really into Android development, I’d wait out installing any betas until after Google I/O.

GNU Hurd ported to AArch64, and more Hurd news

Hurd, the kernel that is supposed to form the basis of the GNU operating system, is perpetually a research project that doesn’t get anywhere close to being a replacement for Linux, but that doesn’t mean the project doesn’t make progress and has a place in the world of operating systems. Their most recent major improvement has been porting GNU Hurd to AArch64, spearheaded by Hurd developer Sergey Bugaev.

Since then, however, I have been (some may say, relentlessly) working on filling in the missing piece, namely porting GNU Mach (with important help & contributions by Luca D.). I am happy to report that we now have an experimental port of GNU Mach that builds and works on AArch64! While that may sound impressive, note that various things about it are in an extremely basic, proof-of-concept state rather than being seriously production-ready; and also that Mach is a small kernel (indeed, a microkernel), and it was designed from the start (back in the 80s) to be portable, so most of the “buisness logic” functionality (virtual memory, IPC, tasks/threads/scheduler) is explicitly arch-independent.

Despite the scary “WIP proof-of-concept” status, there is enough functionality in Mach to run userland code, handle exceptions and syscalls, interact with the MMU to implement all the expected virtual memory semantics, schedule/switch tasks and threads, and so on. Moreover, all of GNU Mach’s userspace self-tests pass!

↫ Sergey Bugaev

On top of all this, glibc works on the AArch64 port, and several important Hurd servers work as well, namely ext2fs, exec, startup, auth, and proc, as a do a number of basic UNIX programs. This is an exceptional effort, and highlights that while people tend to make fun of Hurd, it’s got some real talent working on it that bring the platform forward. While we may not see any widely usable release any time soon, every bit of progress helps and is welcome.

Speaking of progress, the progress report for GNU Hurd covering the first quarter of 2024 has also been published, and it lists a number of other improvements and fixes made aside from the AArch64 port. For instance, the console will now use xkbcommon instead of X11 for handling keyboard layouts, which reduced code complexity a lot and improved keyboard layout coverage, to boot. The port of GDB to the 64 bit version of Hurd is also progressing, and SMP has seen a ton of fixes too.

Another awesome bit of news comes from, once again, Sergey Bugaev, as he announced a new Hurd distribution based on Alpine Linux. Work on this project has only recently begun, but he’s already had some success and about 299 Alpine packages are available. His reasons for starting this new project is that while Debian GNU/Hurd is a great base to work from for Hurd users and developers, Debian is also a bit strict and arcane in its packaging requirements, which might make sense for Debian GNU/Linux, but is annoying to work with when you’re trying to get a lot of low-level work done. For now, there’s no name yet, and he’s asking for help from the Hurd community for name ideas, hosting, and so on.

That’s a lot of GNU Hurd progress this quarter, and that’s good news.

Humane AI pins review confirm what we already expected: it’s useless trash

I didn’t want to spend too much time on this thing, but I feel like we can all use a good laugh at a stupid product hyped only by the tech media. The Verge reviewed the Humane AI pin, and entirely predictably, it’s a complete and utter trashfire.

But until all of that happens, and until the whole AI universe gets better, faster, and more functional, the AI Pin isn’t going to feel remotely close to being done. It’s a beta test, a prototype, a proof of concept that maybe someday there might be a killer device that does all of these things. I know with absolute certainty that the AI Pin is not that device. It’s not worth $700, or $24 a month, or all the time and energy and frustration that using it requires. It’s an exciting idea and an infuriating product. 

AI gadgets might one day be great. But this isn’t that day, and the AI Pin isn’t that product. I’ll take my phone back now, thanks.

↫ David Pierce at The Verge

It takes dozens of seconds to reply to any query, the battery is severely lacking, the answers you get are mostly wrong or useless, sending text messages is effectively broken, and tons of promised features don’t work because they’re not implemented. In another video review, MrMobile also shows the device overheating all the time, a problem that’s common to all of the devices. I don’t think trashfire is harsh enough to describe this junk.

So it begins: Microsoft starts showing full-screen ads about the end of Windows 10 support

We are about 18 months away from the end of mainstream Windows 10 support, but Microsoft thinks it is time to start nagging warning Windows 10 users about the inevitable. Users on Reddit report spotting a new full-screen ad with a notification that Windows 10 is about to reach its end of life in October 2025, even though it is still getting new features (there are even rumors about Microsoft re-opening the Windows Insider Program for Windows 10).

↫ Taras Buria at Neowin

I mean, I have a long history of crying foul over Windows being adware now, but I don’t think warning users that their operating system is losing support and that they should upgrade to a new version really constitutes an ad. Sure, technically it does, but I think we can all agree that such a warning is useful and informative.

EU’s new tech laws are working; small mobile browsers gain market share

Independent browser companies in the European Union are seeing a spike in users in the first month after EU legislation forced Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft and Apple to make it easier for users to switch to rivals, according to data provided to Reuters by six companies.

The early results come after the EU’s sweeping Digital Markets Act, which aims to remove unfair competition, took effect on March 7, forcing big tech companies to offer mobile users the ability to select from a list of available web browsers from a “choice screen.”

↫ Supantha Mukherjee and Foo Yun Chee

I can’t believe this is even remotely surprising. A lot of especially Apple fans and people from outside of the European Union complained left, right, and centre about the choice screen and how it was ugly, unnecessary, and would just confuse users. These are interesting claims, considering the fact that setting up a modern smartphone such as the iPhone takes the user through 40-50 setup screens chockful of confusing choices to make, so adding one more surely wouldn’t make a difference.

Of course giving users the option to choose a different default browser would lead to an increase in browsers other than Safari (iOS) or Chrome (Android) being set as the default. I’m pretty sure quite a few users learned, through the choice screen, for the first time, that there even are different browsers to choose from, and that some of those might offer features and benefits they didn’t even know they could enjoy. That’s the whole point of this endeavour: informing users that they have a choice, something Apple, Google, and others would rather you either do not have, or at least not know about.

It’s far too early to tell if these spikes are a one-off thing, or if the rise in browsers other than Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android is more structural. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the latter, and even if the numbers remain in the single digits or low double digits, it will still lead to an increase in competition, and a more vibrant mobile browser market.

Good news, regardless.

Microsoft details new features coming in Windows Server 2025

Microsoft recently held a streaming event in which it detailed a lot of the new features and changes coming in Windows server 2025, and has now followed that up with a blog post, as well. There’s a lot to go over here, and I’m anything but a Windows Server specialist, so I’ll highlight some of the thing I’m certain will be welcomed by Windows Server administrators.

First and foremost, the biggest improvement: hot-patching. Security updates can be installed without having to reboot, because Server 2025 will modify code in memory without restarting the processes in question. Quarterly updates, however, will still require reboots. Hot-patching will be free on all versions of Server 2025.

Microsoft also promises a massive performance boost for NVMe drives – the company claims a 70% improvement going from Server 2022 to Server 2025. Microsoft’s other file system, ReFS, is also seeing improvements, and Storage Replica’s compression will be available in all editions of Windows Server 2025. A major improvement in Hyper-V is the ability to partition GPUs, so you can use one GPU to power multiple virtual machines.

As far as licensing goes, the most important news here is that you’ll still be able to buy a normal, regular, run-of-the-mill perpetual license for Windows Server 2025, so even though there’s various more ‘modern’ options, you can also just opt for the way it’s always been.

“Why does part of the Windows 98 Setup program look older than the rest?”

Well, this is something I never knew. Over on the retrocomputing section of StackExchange, someone asked why the second phase of the Windows 98 installation looked decidedly different from the third phase, even though they’re both graphical phases (the first phase is textual). The answer turns out to be both surprising, and entirely predictable.

The first phase is a DOS program called DOSSETUP.BIN, which is the infamous blue part of the installation. The second part, however, is what we’re interested in here, and if the first phase is DOS, and the third phase is Windows 98 itself… What do you think the second phase is running? Yeah, exactly.

Basically, because it is running under Windows 3.1 at that point.

The second uses this minimal Windows 3.1 to run a Windows 3 program, W98SETUP.BIN (specified as the “shell” in SYSTEM.INI).

This starts by copying more files to support all the information-gathering during setup, and various other niceties including the 3D look shown in your screenshot (the contents of the PRECOPY CABs); it ends by copying most of Windows 98, setting the system up so that it will boot Windows 98 from the target drive, and rebooting.

↫ Stephen Kitt

So, in order to install Windows 98, you first run DOS, followed by Windows 3.1, ending in Windows 98. I have no idea why this is so funny to me, especially since it fits entirely within expectations of how Microsoft does things.

iXsystems: focusing on Linux makes more sense than FreeBSD

A few weeks ago we talked about how iXsystems, the company behind TrueNAS CORE and SCALE, has all but confirmed that its FreeBSD-based CORE product will be put in maintenance mode, while the Linux-based SCALE product will get all the attention and focus from here on out. In an interview with Blocks & Files, the company gave more insight into this choice.

“We had a huge chunk of our engineering staff spending time improving FreeBSD as opposed to working on features and functionalities. What’s happened now with the transition to having a Debian basis, the people I used to have 90 percent of their time working on FreeBSD, they’re working on ZFS features now … That’s what I want to see; value add for everybody versus sitting around, implementing something Linux had a years ago. And trying to maintain or backport, or just deal with something that you just didn’t get out of box on FreeBSD.”

“It’s not knocking against FreeBSD. We love it. That’s our heritage. That’s our roots, I was on the CORE team elected twice. So believe me, if I felt like I could have stayed on FreeBSD for the next 20 years, I would have absolutely preferred to do that … But at some point, you gotta read the writing on the wall and say, well, all the the vendor supported-innovations are happening on the Linux side these days.”

[…]

BSD aficionados don’t like this change. Moore said: “Talk is cheap and complaints are free. You know, everyone loves to complain about it. But … if people wanted to push FreeBSD forward for the last 15 years, they would have.”

↫ Chris Mellor at Blocks & Files

Above all else, my personal north star is choice, especially in technology, and as such, I want iXsystems to keep focusing on FreeBSD so that not everyone is using Linux for server- and server-like workloads. The fact that TrueNAS was a FreeBSD-based product for this long was amazing, and I would definitely have preferred if it stayed that way for many, many more years to come.

However, I don’t think the people of TrueNAS are saying anything wrong or outrageous here. They’ve got employees to feed, and the money is in Linux, not FreeBSD. If they spend more money, time, and resources on getting FreeBSD on par with features Linux has had for ages than on actually developing their own product – TrueNAS – then they’re fighting a losing battle. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to take this controversial step.

All we can hope for is that the things they work on, the features they develop, will make it to FreeBSD regardless.

HP 200LX and related palmtops

The HP 200 LX was a successful palmtop computer introduced in 1994. HP continued to sell it through 1999, an unusually long run for a 1990s computer model. In this blog post, we’ll dig into this largely forgotten form factor and why it became such a quiet success.

↫ Dave Farquhar

These devices are incredibly cool, but I disagree that they disappeared, as the blog post states. Just recently I reviewed my main laptop, a very small Chuwi MiniBook (2023) with the N100, and in that article I also listed some other similar options that are still being made and sold today, from companies like GPD and OneNetbook.

Beeper leaves beta, acquired by Automattic

If you haven’t already heard of Beeper, welcome! Beeper is a universal chat app for Android, iOS and desktop. Our goal is to build the best chat app on earth.

[…]

Beeper is built on an open source chat protocol called Matrix. Over time, we’ll help people migrate from proprietary, siloed chat networks to an open standard for chat. If you’re interested in learning about this, we’ve written more about our intentions.

↫ Beeper team

Beeper is just great. Because I’m European and have ties to two different countries with vastly different chat preferences, as well as a number of friends living all over Europe and the US, I’ve always had to deal with at least four different instant messaging applications. Beeper, and especially the recent completely redesigned Android version, is so good and seamless that I no longer need to use the individual applications at all.

It’s not perfect – the new Android version (the iOS version is old and outdated compared to the Android one) still has some issues. If you receive a video and play it, it doesn’t maximise unless you perform a very delicate zoom in pinch. Sometimes, sending video fails. Some emoji replies on some services look huge and pixellated. I’m sure these are all relatively low-hanging fruit types of bugs that’ll get fixes over the coming weeks and months now that the application is out of beta. However, the actual core of the application has been working amazingly well for me.

Beeper also has another major announcement.

I’m excited to announce that Beeper has been acquired by Automattic. This acquisition marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter as we continue our mission to create the best chat app on earth.

↫ Eric Migicovsky

Automattic is the company behind WordPress, Tumblr, Pocket Casts, and a whole load of other products and services. Beeper seems like a good fit, since Automattic recently also acquired Texts.com, another multi-platform messaging client.

Google details privacy and security features of its new Find My Device network

Yesterday, I posted an item about the updated Find My Device network Google launched for Android, but I forgot to link to an additional blog post by Google about the various security and privacy precautions they’ve taken. One aspect in particular stands out as something new that Apple’s Find My network doesn’t do (yet):

This is a first-of-its-kind safety protection that makes unwanted tracking to a private location, like your home, more difficult. By default, the Find My Device network requires multiple nearby Android devices to detect a tag before reporting its location to the tag’s owner. Our research found that the Find My Device network is most valuable in public settings like cafes and airports, where there are likely many devices nearby. By implementing aggregation before showing a tag’s location to its owner, the network can take advantage of its biggest strength – over a billion Android devices that can participate. This helps tag owners find their lost devices in these busier locations while prioritizing safety from unwanted tracking near private locations. In less busy areas, last known location and Nest finding are reliable ways to locate items.

↫ Dave Kleidermacher

In addition, when you’re at home, your devices won’t contribute any information either. There’s a whole bunch of other things in there, too, so head on over if you’re curious.

Ten years ago, Windows XP received its final update

Exactly ten years ago, on April 8, 2014, Microsoft released the final security patch for Windows XP. The day marked the end of the road for one of the most iconic Windows versions ever released.

↫ Taras Buria at Neowin

I never liked Windows XP. Compared to the operating systems I was using at the time – BeOS, Mandrake Linux 8.x – Windows XP felt kind of like a bad joke I wasn’t in on. It looked ridiculous, didn’t seem to offer anything substantial, and it didn’t take long for major security incidents related to Windows XP to start dominating the news. It wasn’t until several service packs had been released that Windows XP came into its own, but by that point, I had already found a much better alternative for my Windows needs at the time. I’m of course talking about Windows Server 2003, the better Windows than Windows XP.

Today though, I do have an odd fondness for Windows XP, as I grow older and XP has become something from my teenage years. The look and feel of Windows XP – the classic theme, not that horrendous Fisher Price nonsense – the sound set, the wallpaper of course – has become iconic, warts and all, and whole generations of people will feel instant feelings as soon as they see Bliss or hear that iconic startup sound.

Windows XP with a few service packs now belongs to the small group of Windows releases that I would call the peak of the platform, together with Windows 95 and Windows 7 (and perhaps Server 2003, but that’s more of a personal thing and not a consumer operating system). Everything else has not exactly been great or even aged well, and I doubt Windows 10 and 11 will suddenly get good, either.