EasyOS: an experimental Linux distribution

There’s really a Linux distribution for everyone, it seems. EasyOS sounds like it’s going to be some Debian derivative with a theme or something, but it’s truly something different – in fact, it has such a unique philosophy and approach to everything I barely know where to even start.

Everything in EasyOS runs in containers, in the distribution’s own custom container format, even entire desktop environments, and containers are configured entirely graphically. EasyOS runs every application in RAM, making it insanely fast, and you can save the contents of RAM to disk whenever you want. You can also choose a special boot option where the entire session is only loaded in RAM, with disk access entirely disabled, for maximum security.

Now things are going to get weird. In EasyOS, you always run as root, which may seem like a stupid thing to do, and I’m sure some people will find this offputting. The idea, however, is you run every application as its own user (e.g. Firefox runs as the “firefox” user), entirely isolated from every other user, or in containers with further constraints applied. I honestly kind of like this approach.

If these first few details of what EasyOS is going for tickles your fancy, I really urge you to read the rest of their detailed explanation of what, exactly, EasyOS is going for. It’s an opinionated distribution, for sure, but it’s opinionated in a way where they’re clearly putting a lot of thought into the decisions they make. I’m definitely feeling the pull to give it a try and see if it’s something for me.

Apple won’t release its new AI features in the EU because they don’t comply with EU privacy and competition laws

Apple has announced it’s not shipping three of its tentpole new features, announced during WWDC, in the European Union: Apple Intelligence, iPhone Mirroring, and SharePlay Screen Sharing.

Ever since the introduction of especially Apple Intelligence, the company has been in hot water over the sourcing of its training data – Apple admitted it’s been scraping everyone’s data for years and now used it to train its AI features. This will obviously have included vasts amounts of data from European websites and citizens, and with the strict EU privacy laws, there’s a very real chance that such scraping is simply not legal. As such, it’s simpler to just not comply with such stricter privacy laws than to design your products with privacy in mind.

As Steven Troughton-Smith quips:

How many EU-based sites did Apple scrape to build the feature it now says it can’t ship in the EU because of legal uncertainty?

↫ Steven Troughton-Smith

Other massive corporations like Google and Facebook seem to have little issue shipping AI features in the EU, and have been doing so for quite a while now. And mind you, as Tim Cook has been very keen to reiterate in every single interview for the past two years or so, Apple has been shipping AI features similar to what they announced at WWDC for years as well, but it’s only now that the European Union is actually imposing regulations on them – instead of letting corporatism run wild – that it can no longer ship such features in the EU?

Apple is throwing its users under the bus because Tim Cook is big mad that someone told him no. As I keep reiterating, consent is something Silicon Valley simply does not understand.

Is 2024 the year of Windows on the desktop?

It should be no secret to anyone reading OSNews that I’m not exactly a fan of Windows. While I grew up using MS-DOS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 9x, the move to Windows XP was a sour one for me, and ever since I’ve vastly preferred first BeOS, and then Linux. When, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Wine community and Valve gaming on Linux became a boring, it-just-works affair, I said goodbye to my final gaming-only Windows installation about four or so years ago.

However, I also strongly believe that in order to be able to fairly criticise or dislike something, you should at least have experience with it. As such, I decided it was time for what I expected was going to be some serious technology BDSM, and I installed Windows 11 on my workstation and force myself to use it for a few weeks to see if Microsoft’s latest operating system truly was as bad as I make it out to be in my head.

Installing Windows 11

Technically speaking, my workstation is not supported by Windows 11. Despite packing two Intel Xeon E5 V4 2640 CPUs for a total of 20 cores and 40 threads, 32 GB of ECC RAM, an AMD Radeon Pro w5700, and the usual stuff like an M.2 SSD, this machine apparently did not meet the minimum specifications for Windows 11 since it has no TPM 2.0 security chip, and the processors were deemed too old. Luckily, these limitations are entirely artificial and meaningless, and using Ventoy, which by default disables these silly restrictions, I was able to install Windows 11 just fine.

During installation, you run into the first problem if you’re coming from a different operating system – even after all these years, Windows still does not give a single hootin’ toot about any existing operating systems or bootloaders on your machine. This wasn’t an issue for me since I was going to allow Windows to take over the entire machine, but for those of used to have control over what happens when we install our operating systems, be advised that your other operating systems will most likely be rendered unbootable.

The tools you have access to during installation for things like disk partitioning are also incredibly limited, and there’s nothing like the live environments you’re used to from the Linux world – all you get is an installer. In addition, since Windows only really supports FAT and NTFS file systems, your existing ext4, btrfs, UFS, or ZFS partitions used by your Linux or BSD installs will not work at all in Windows. Again – be advised that Windows is a very limited operating system compared to Linux or BSD.

Once the actual installation part is done, you’re treated to a lengthy – and I truly mean lengthy – out of box experience. This is where you first get a glimpse of just how much data Microsoft wants to collect from its Windows users, and it stands in stark contrast to what I’m used to as a Linux user. On my Linux distribution of choice, Fedora KDE, there’s really only KDE’s opt-in, voluntary User Feedback option, which only collects basic system information in an entirely anonymous way. Windows, meanwhile, seems to want to collect pretty much everything you do on your machine, and while there’s some prompts to reduce the amount of data it collects, even with everything set to minimum it’s still quite a lot.

Once you’re past the out of box experience, you can finally start using your new Windows installation – but actually not really. Unlike a Linux distribution, where all your hardware is detected automatically and will use the latest drivers, on Windows, you will most likely have to do some manual driver hunting, searching the web for PCI and vendor IDs to hopefully locate the correct drivers, which isn’t always easy. To make matters worse, even if Windows Update installs the correct drivers for you, those are often outdated, and you’re better off downloading the latest versions straight from the vendors’ websites. This is especially problematic for motherboard drivers – motherboard vendor websites often list horribly outdated drivers.

Updating Windows 11

Once you have all the drivers installed and updated, which often requires several reboots, you might notice that your system seems to be awfully busy, even when you’re not actually doing anything with it. Most likely, this means Windows Update is running in the background, sucking up a lot of system resources. If you’re used to Linux or BSD, where updating is a quick and centralised process, updating things on Windows is a complete and utter mess. Instead of just updating everything all at once, Windows Update will often require several different rounds of updates, marked by reboots.

You’ll also discover that Windows Update is not only incredibly slow both when it comes to downloading and installing, but that it’s also incredibly buggy. Updates will randomly fail to install for no apparent reason, and there’s a whole cottage industry of useless ML and SEO content on the internet trying to “help” you fix these issues. On my system, without doing anything, Windows Update managed to break itself in less than 24 hours – it listed 79 (!) driver updates related to the two Xeon processors (I assume it listed certain drivers for every single of the 40 threads), but every single one of them, save for one or two, would fail to install with a useless generic error code. Every time I tried to install them, one or two more would install, with everything else failing, until eventually the update process just hung the entire system. A few days later, the listed updated just disappeared entirely from Windows Update. The updates had no KB numbers, so it was impossible to find any information on them, and to this day, I have no idea what was going on here.

Even after battling your way through Windows Update, you’re not done actually updating your system. Unlike, say, something like Fedora or literally any other Linux distribution, where both the system and applications are updated from a single location and with a single operation, some Windows applications are updated through the Microsoft Store instead. This application is slow, takes a long time to load, and it, too, is slow at actually updating and installing applications. Why Windows doesn’t just do what modern, well-designed desktop-ready operating systems do and properly centralise updates is beyond me. A major missed opportunity.

Oh but we’re not done yet. Even after battling your way through Windows Update and the Microsoft Store, you’ll eventually discover that a huge array of Windows applications and drivers need to be updated manually. As in, yes, they come with their own updaters that you need to keep track of and run manually to keep your applications and drivers updated. This is apparently some weird, archaic holdover from the days before the internet, where you would install applications offline, and only install updates if you could get your hands on them. Why this hasn’t been fixed and properly centralised over the past 30 years is beyond me. If you’re used to the convenience of package managers keeping your system nice and updated with little user input, this feels like going several decades back in time.

Windows 11 does come with a very rudimentary package manager you can use in the terminal, but it’s not exactly the most useful package manager you’ve ever seen. If you install, say, something like Neofetch using this tool, it’ll just download the installer, run it like normal, opening up the installer UI that steals focus, and then drop you back to the terminal. It’s not exactly elegant, and because it can only be used to install applications listed in the Winget repository, it’s not a replacement or alternative for managing all your applications – it’s just yet another place to manage applications.

So, in order to keep your Windows 11 system updated, you need to keep an eye on Windows Update, the Windows Store, individual updaters for applications you’ve installed, and possibly Winget if you’re using it. Coming from a platform that effectively solved updates decades ago, this feels utterly broken and archaic, and I can’t believe this is considered “ready for the desktop” by some. Compare this entire Byzantine process to my Linux distribution of choice, Fedora KDE: I open Discover, hit update, reboot (optional). Done. The entire operating system, from system, drivers, to applications, from RPM to – god forbid – Flatpak, is updated, and it rarely takes more than a few minutes.

First impressions

Now that everything’s finally sorted, you scrounged up and updated all your drivers, you rebooted a few times, and Windows Update is done hogging the system, you can finally start to take a proper look around your new operating system. At first glance, it actually looks kind of nice – I definitely like the most recent version of Windows’ theme, and some of the blur and animations are quite nice. Sadly, you’ll quickly discover it’s all a massive ruse.

The first thing I noticed is that there’s a lot of lag in the Windows user interface, which, considering the Radeon Pro w5700 and 160Hz 4K display I’m using, really shouldn’t be there. Something as simple as right-clicking the desktop to bring up the context menu takes a few noticeable moments, after which the menu suddenly gains another option and expands; some AMD Software: PRO Edition software shortcut. This entry alone adds like a full second or more to loading the context menu, which is just wild to me. Whether I’m using KDE, GNOME, Xfce, or anything else on Linux or BSD – I’ve never seen a context menu being anything but instant. I eventually figured out you can remove this AMD entry to speed up the context menu (what a sentence…), but only by modifying the registry.

Or take something like opening the file manager, Explorer. For some reason, the bottom two-thirds of the window renders instantly, but the top third, where the titlebar, toolbar, and tab bar are, renders a full second later. These are just two examples, but you’ll find similar stutters all over the operating system. KDE or GNOME, running on this very same machine, show no stutters whatsoever, and even on something like my mini-laptop with a paltry Intel N100 do I never experience stutters in KDE.

The second thing I quickly noticed is just how inconsistent the Windows user interface really is. There are two competing ‘themes’ at work in Windows, what I (probably wrongly) refer to as the Win32 and modern theme. The Win32 theme is the same as it’s been for several years now, and comes straight from the olden days, just tarted up with some rounded window corners here, some more white there, but it’s mostly just what you know. The modern theme is the one Microsoft prefers to show off in marketing, which is indeed quite nice, but only used in parts of the operating system.

The end result is so many inconsistencies and weirdness I barely know where to start.

One of the first inconsistencies that jumps out at you is that Windows seems to be using two different methods of rendering fonts. In Win32, they are smaller and use ClearType, while in modern applications, they are bigger and don’t use ClearType. But this is just the beginning, and as you start using Windows 11, you’ll notice this operating system is defined by inconsistency.

There are basically two different versions of every type of UI element – a Win32 one, and a modern one. Sometimes, they’re even present in the same application. Explorer, for instance, is a Win32 application, but it’s wrapped in a modern theme, so it looks (mostly) like a modern application, but feels like a Win32 one. Context menus are either Win32 or modern, as are settings panels, dialog windows, and so on.

But it gets worse. Even the modern variants of these UI elements are inconsistent between each other. There are a variety of modern (context) menu designs, and they all look and behave differently. Some fade in, some slide down. Some have rounded corners, some are square. Some have icons, some have not. There’s some menus with a black border, which most others lack. Some have a blue-ish selection, others are grey. And mind you – this is just talking about menus!

Four titlebars from Microsoft applications, four different titlebar heights. Kill me now.

Nothing embodies the deep, jarring inconsistency more than the fact that some context menus… Have context menus. The desktop context menu, for instance, has its own context menu, called “Show more options”, which opens another context menu. The first one is one of the various modern designs, the second one is a Win32 one. The second one mostly replicates the items from the first menu, so I’m guessing it’s there for some odd backwards compatibility reason.

A context menu with its own context menu encapsulates the current state of Windows more than any article ever could.

Do note that much like the lag and stutter examples I mentioned earlier, these are all just examples – you can find way more of them by just using Windows 11 for like ten minutes. And if you really want to have a good laugh – enable Windows 11’s dark mode, and you’re in for random windows just not supporting it, windows opening in white and as they load their contents turn dark, or windows that flash white when opening, which is always very much appreciated when using dark mode in a dark environment.

None of these issues exist on the platforms I’m used to. A KDE desktop or a GNOME desktop is consistent, almost to a fault, in either light or dark mode. If you learn how to use one GNOME application, you pretty much know how to use them all – they look the same, feel the same, and have their important elements and functions in the same place. KDE definitely went through a bit of a rough patch in this regard, but ever since roughly the second half of the KDE Plasma 5 lifecycle, and especially now with Plasma 6, it’s also incredibly consistent.

You may not care about consistency, but that’s probably just because you’re not used to it. Once you’ve become accustomed to a graphical user interface where things are where you expect them to be, where things look, feel, and behave the same, and where you’re never faced with jarring inconsistencies, it’s really hard to go back to something as downright messy as Windows 11. I hear macOS is, sadly, also moving in the direction of Windows 11, due to things like AppKit, SwiftUI, Catalyst, and UIKit applications all running side-by-side, while all looking and feeling different from each other. Linux desktops really are the last bastion of consistent user interface design, it seems.

Shovelware and built-in applications

Windows 11 comes loaded with a lot shovelware. When you first open the Start menu, it’s littered with all kinds of garbage like mobile games, LinkedIn, Spotify, and god knows what else, and it seems the selection of shovelware you get depends on when you install Windows 11 and in what region you live. Most often, these are actually just little shortcuts that when clicked tell Windows to download the application in question. It definitely takes a while to uninstall them all.

Thanks to living in the European Union, I also get to remove a whole bunch of other preinstalled stuff people outside of the EU cannot remove, which is a nice bonus. However, since there’s no easy package management, and because some applications can only be removed from a legacy control panel that’s harder to find, it’s a nuisance that takes a lot of time post-installation.

Right! Windows 11 has two different settings applications. The new, fancy one, and the old one you may remember from older versions of Windows, called Control Panel. I swear I’m not making this up. Okay, back to the topic at hand.

The applications that come preinstalled with Windows are actually quite nice. The modern versions of Windows mainstays Notepad, Paint, and so on look great, work well, and offer a host of features their old counterparts never got due to a serious lack of development on them on Microsoft’s part. You now get tabs in Notepad, countless new editing features in Paint, the ability to record the screen in the Snipping Tool, and so on – features people have been asking for for sometimes decades have now finally come to Windows’ base applications, and that’s great.

Windows now finally also has a more capable terminal application. While in the olden times you were stuck with an emulated DOS prompt, the new Windows Terminal application now defaults to PowerShell, which is infinitely more capable than what came before while still usable with the same basic commands as the DOS prompt. I’m not much of a command line user, so I can’t say much about how PowerShell compares to common UNIX shells, but as a casual user, I have no issues with it.

The Terminal application allows you to open either PowerShell or DOS shells in tabs. It also has an option for launching an Azure Cloud Shell, but that’s not something I’ll ever need. In addition to all of these, you can also install Windows Subsystem for Linux, which will install an entire Ubuntu distribution, so you can use its shell inside the Terminal application as well. It’s just a good terminal application, and a massive improvement over only having access to the basic DOS command prompt.

Once you move beyond the applications that come bundled with Windows 11, however, things start to get messy again. The Microsoft Store contains only a small subset of the available Windows applications, and since the store is littered with crapware and shovelware, unfinished or unmaintained proof of concepts, and other junk, it’s a slog to find anything valuable. The more common way of installing applications on Windows is something that may seem alien to us Linux users – you browse the web to find applications and download them.

How do you know if anything you download is trusted? Well, that’s the thing – you don’t. You just have to wade through Google or your preferred search engine, and hope for the best that what you find isn’t adware or some other malicious piece of software. You’ll also have to deal with “installers”, which are little pieces of software that take you through the process of installing the application you found, step by step. They often look and feel quite outdated, originating from the Windows XP, or worse, Windows 9x days. And yes, this means most of those applications will come with their own update mechanisms too, often running in the background, that you have to keep track of.

You can also use the aforementioned Winget, which weirdly enough might be the best way to install applications on Windows these days. You just have to hope the application you want is in the Winget repository, which is really not that different from dealing with packages on Linux, except that there’s only a little over 4000 packages in the Winget repository, which is a far cry from the vast software library available in the Fedora, Debian, or Void repositories.

In other words, you’ll be juggling between the Microsoft Store, browsing the web and downloading installers, and Winget, and neither of those three are optimal. Coming from a modern, desktop-ready platform like Linux, this all feels cumbersome, archaic, dangerous, and tedious. Application management on Windows is decades behind the state of the art that us Linux users are used to, and it’s absolutely wild that this is considered acceptable.

As a final note about applications for us Linux users, you’ll be surprised to learn that Windows 11 does not, by default, come with an office suite. If you need to perform office work, you’ll either need to download LibreOffice (or an alternative) manually, or buy or subscribe to Microsoft Office. Luckily, LibreOffice is available in the Winget repository, so installing it is as simple as opening the Terminal application and executing winget install TheDocumentFoundation.LibreOffice. Neat, but I found that for me, LibreOffice on Windows felt like it came straight out of 2005, with lag and stutter, blurry icons on my 4K display, ugliness and all. Manually switching to the SVG version of the icon set fixed at least some of that.

Am I the owner?

There’s one thing you can’t escape when using Windows 11: the feeling that you’re not the owner of your operating system, but a mere renter. And let me tell you – Microsoft is a shit landlord. The advertising inside Windows 11 is absolutely insane, and if you’re used to a platform without any advertising at all – which, at this point, is really only the Linux desktop, since macOS is riddled with Apple ads and upsells as well – this is a massively jarring experience.

I already mentioned the various shortcuts in the Start menu post-installation, which are really just ads for shovelware games, Spotify, and other services. OneDrive is another name you’ll encounter often, as Microsoft really, really wants you to use its cloud storage service, and is not shy about shoving it in your face everywhere, from the system tray to setting it as the default storage location for documents in Microsoft Office. Speaking of Office – Redmond really, really wants you to subscribe to Office 365, the subscription version of their office suite. Trials come preinstalled, it’s in the Settings application, and probably in a few other places I forgot about. And it gets so much worse. You need PC Game Pass! Please use Bing! You need Microsoft Rewards (whatever the hell those are)! You need CoPilot Pro! Please use Bing! Please! I know where you sleep. Ư̷̙̰̖̣̿͑ŝ̸͎̖̻̺̽e̵̛̘̽͗̋ ̴̫͓̮͗ͅB̸͉͍̬̍ì̵̟͒̈́͋n̵̯̒g̶̦̫̖̜̈́.̴̧̡̖͉̼͠ ̷͓͕͋̿̈́N̸͈͓̈͒̈́͜ö̵͕̲w̶̤͆̄̒̊.

The first thing I did after installing Windows 11 is use a little script I found to purge everything CoPilot off the machine. Not only do I not wish to be beaten over the head with this stuff at every turn, I also have deep moral objections to machine learning tools like CoPilot, both regarding the questionable way they source their training data and their impact on the environment. The fact that one most resort to registry hacks and scripts just to remove unwanted applications and features is absolutely bizarre from the perspective of a Linux user.

Nowhere does the question of ownership over what should be your computer come more to the forefront than when trying to delete the Videos folder from your home directory. One of first things I do after any installation is remove the predefined folders in my home directory that I don’t use, as I really don’t want them littering around for no reason. As it turns out, while there’s quite a few you can delete on Windows, the Videos folder is special, and even after granting administrative privileges, Windows simply will not allow you to delete it.

I cannot delete a folder in my home directory on my computer.

If this is “ready for the desktop”, I’m glad Linux is not

If you’re used to a better designed, more modern, more capable, and more well-rounded, optimised desktop operating system like Linux, whether you’re using KDE, GNOME, Xfce, or even one of the smaller desktop environments, using Windows 11 feels like going back in time, and handing over control of the journey to get there to someone else, far away, who actually owns your computer.

So, so many basic things that are effortless on a modern Linux distribution are slow, fragile, fractured, and disjointed chores on Windows 11. Updating your computer is no longer a mindless, quick thing you barely notice you do, but a slow chore interrupted by reboots and breakage spread out over countless manual tools and individual updaters. Installing software is a balancing act of several, individually incompetent installation avenues, like trying to spin multiple egg-shaped plates on bent sticks. All while every new window, menu, dialog, or panel you open looks and feels different form the one that came before, with billboards blaring commercials at you for shit you don’t want or need, but can’t always get rid of.

And there’s so many more issues I haven’t even touched upon, like the bizarre installation footprint of the operating system, which takes up considerably more space than what us Linux users are used to, or the complete and utter lack of any customisation options for things like the taskbar or window controls, or the general unpleasantness of using Explorer, or how hard Microsoft tries to get you to use Edge, or how there’s still two different Program Files folders, or how Windows applications, even Microsoft ones, never respect the rules about where user files should be stored, or… It just never ends, but I just got tired of making myself sad.

Windows 11 is many things to many people, but ready for the desktop it surely is not.

Somehow, this folder bugged out. I don’t know how to fix it.

The ExectOS operating system

ExectOS is a preemptive, reentrant multitasking operating system that implements the XT architecture which derives from NT architecture. It is modular, and consists of two main layers: microkernel and user modes. Its’ kernel mode has full access to the hardware and system resources and runs code in a protected memory area. It consists of executive services, which is itself made up on many modules that do specific tasks, a kernel and drivers. Unlike the NT, system does not feature a separate Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) between the physical hardware and the rest of the OS. Instead, XT architecture integrates a hardware specific code with the kernel. The user mode is made up of subsystems and it has been designed to run applications written for many different types of operating systems. This allows us to implement any environment subsystem to support applications that are strictly written to the corresponding standard (eg. DOS, or POSIX). Thanks to that ExectOS will allow to run existing software, including Win32 applications.

↫ ExectOS website

What ExectOS seems to be is an implementation very close to what Windows NT originally was – implementing the theory of Windows NT, not the reality. It’s clearly still in very early development, but in theory, I really like the idea of what they’re trying to achieve here. Windows NT is, after all, in and of itself not a bad concept – it’s just been tarred and feathered by decades of mismanagement from Microsoft. Implementing something that closely resembles the original, minimalist theories behind NT could lead to an interesting operating system for sure.

ExectOS is open source, contains its own boot loader, only runs on EFI, and installation on real hardware, while technically possible, is discouraged.

The X Windowing System turns 40 today

Today just so happens to be the 40th birthday of X, the venerable windowing system that’s on its way out, at least in the Linux world. From the original announcement by Robert W. Scheifler:

I’ve spent the last couple weeks writing a window system for the VS100. I stole a fair amount of code from W, surrounded it with an asynchronous rather than a synchronous interface, and called it X. Overall performance appears to be about twice that of W. The code seems fairly solid at this point, although there are still some deficiencies to be fixed up.

We at LCS have stopped using W, and are now actively building applications on X. Anyone else using W should seriously consider switching. This is not the ultimate window system, but I believe it is a good starting point for experimentation. Right at the moment there is a CLU (and an Argus) interface to X; a C interface is in the works. The three existing applications are a text editor (TED), an Argus I/O interface, and a primitive window manager. There is no documentation yet; anyone crazy enough to volunteer? I may get around to it eventually.

↫ Robert W. Scheifler

Reading this announcement email made me wonder if way back then, in 1984, the year of my birth, there were also people poo-pooing this new thing called “X” for not having all the features W had. There must’ve people posting angry messages on various BBS servers about how X is dumb and useless since it doesn’t have their feature in W that allows them to use an acoustic modem to send a signal over their internal telephone system by slapping their terminal in just the right spot to activate their Betamax that’s hotwired into the telephone system.

I mean, W was only about a year old at the time, so probably not, but there must’ve been a lot of complaining and whining about this newfangled X thing, and now, 40 years later, long after it has outgrown its usefulness, we’re again dealing with people so hell-bent on keeping an outdated system running but hoping – nay, demanding – others to do the actual work of maintaining it.

X served its purpose. It took way too long, but we’ve moved on. Virtually every new Linux user since roughly 12-24 months ago will most likely never use X, and never even know what it was. They’re using a more modern, more stable, more performant, more secure, and better maintained system, leading to a better user experience, and that’s something we should all agree on is a good thing.

DeepComputing announces third-party RISC-V mainboard for the Framework 13 laptop

Framework, the company making modular, upgradeable, and repairable laptops, and DeepComputing, the same company that’s making the DC ROMA II RISC-V laptop we talked about last week, have announced something incredibly cool: a brand new RISC-V mainboard that fits right into existing Framework 13 laptops.

Sporting a RISC-V StarFive JH7110 SoC, this groundbreaking Mainboard was independently designed and developed by DeepComputing. It’s the main component of the very first RISC-V laptop to run Canonical’s Ubuntu Desktop and Server, and the Fedora Desktop OS and represents the first independently developed Mainboard for a Framework Laptop.

↫ The DeepComputing website

For a company that was predicted to fail by a popular Apple spokesperson, it seems Framework is doing remarkably well. This new mainboard is the first one not made by Framework itself, and is the clearest validation yet of the concept put into the market by the Framework team. I can’t recall the last time you could buy a laptop powered by one architecture, and then upgrade to an entirely different architecture down the line, just by replacing the mainboard.

The news of this RISC-V mainboard has made me dream of other possibilities – like someone crazy enough to design, I don’t know, a POWER10 or POWER11 mainboard? Entirely impossible and unlikely due to heat constraints, but one may dream, right?

Update on Newton, the Wayland-native accessibility project

There’s incredibly good news for people who use accessibility tools on Linux, but who were facing serious, gamebreaking problems when trying to use Wayland. Matt Campbell, of the GNOME accessibility team, has been hard at work on an entirely new accessibility architecture for modern free desktops, and he’s got some impressive results to show for it already.

I’ve now implemented enough of the new architecture that Orca is basically usable on Wayland with some real GTK 4 apps, including Nautilus, Text Editor, Podcasts, and the Fractal client for Matrix. Orca keyboard commands and keyboard learn mode work, with either Caps Lock or Insert as the Orca modifier. Mouse review also works more or less. Flat review is also working. The Orca command to left-click the current flat review item works for standard GTK 4 widgets.

↫ Matt Campbell

One of the major goals of the project was to enable such accessibility support for Flatpak applications without having to pass an exception for the AT-SPI bus. what this means is that the new accessibility architecture can run as part of a Flatpak application without having to break out of their sandbox, which is obviously a hugely important feature to implement.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, though. Something like the GNOME shell doesn’t yet support Newton, of course, so that’s still using the older, much slower AT-SPI bus. Wayland also doesn’t support mouse synthesizing yet, things like font, size, style, and colour aren’t exposed yet, and there’s a many more limitations due to this being such a new project. The project also isn’t trying to be GNOME-specific; Campbell wants to work with the other desktops to eventually end up with an accessibility architecture that is truly cross-desktop.

The blog post further goes into great detail about implementation details, current and possible future shortcomings, and a lot more.

KDE Plasma 6.1 released

After the very successful release of KDE Plasma 6.0, which moved the entire desktop environment and most of its applications over to Qt 6, fixed a whole slow of bugs, and streamlined the entire KDE desktop and its applications, it’s now time for KDE Plasma 6.1, where we’re going to see a much stronger focus on new features. While it’s merely a point release, it’s still a big one.

The tentpole new feature of Plasma 6.1 is access to remote Plasma desktops. You can go into Settings and log into any Plasma desktop, which is built entirely and directly into KDE’s own Wayland compositor, avoiding the use of third party applications of hacky extensions to X.org. Having such remote access built right into the desktop environment and its compositor itself is a much cleaner implementation than in the before time with X.

Another feature that worked just fine under X but was still missing from KDE Plasma on Wayland is something they now call “persistent applications” – basically, KDE will now remember which windows you had open when you closed KDE or shut down your computer, and open them back up right where you left off when you log back in. It’s one of those things that got lost in the transition to Wayland, and having it back is really, really welcome.

Speaking of Wayland, KDE Plasma 6.1 also introduces two major new rendering features. Explicit sync removes flickering and glitches most commonly seen on NVIDIA hardware, while triple buffering provides smoother animations and screen rendering. There’s more here, too, such as a completely reworked edit desktop view, support for controlling keyboard LED backlighting traditionally found in gaming laptops, and more.

KDE Plasma 6.1 will find its way to your distribution of choice soon enough, but of course, you can compile and install it yourself, too.

The history of DR-DOS

I’ve always found the world of DOS versions and variants to be confusing, since most of it took place when I was very young (I’m from 1984) so I wasn’t paying much attention to computing quite yet, other than playing DOS games. One of the variants of DOS I never quite understood where it was from until much, much later, was DR-DOS. To this day, I pronounce this as “Doctor DOS”.

If you’re also a little unclear on what, exactly, DR-DOS was, Bradford Morgan White has an excellent article detailing the origins and history of DR-DOS, making it very easy to get up to speed and expand your knowledge on DOS, which is surely a very marketable skill in the days of Electron and Electron for Developers.

DR DOS was a great product. It was superior to other DOS versions in many ways, and it is certainly possible that it could have been more successful were it not for Microsoft Windows having been so wildly successful. Starting with Windows 95, the majority of computer users simply didn’t much care about which DOS loaded Windows so long as it worked. There’s quite a bit of lore regarding legal battles and copyrights surrounding CP/M and DOS involving Microsoft and Digital Research. This has been covered in previous articles to some extent, but I am not really certain how much would have changed had Microsoft and Digital Research got on. Gates and Kildall had been quite friendly at one point, and we know that the two mutually chose not to work together due to differences in business practices and beliefs. Kildall chose to be quite a bit more friendly and less competitive while Gates very much chose to be competitive and at times a bit ruthless. Additionally, Kildall sold DRI rather than continue the fight, and DRI had never really attempted to combine DR DOS with GEM as a cohesive product to fight Windows before Windows became the ultimate ruler of the OS market following Windows 3.1’s release. Still, it was an absolutely brilliant product and part of me will always feel that it ought to have won.

↫ Bradford Morgan White

I can definitely imagine an alternative timeline in which Digital Research managed to combine DR-DOS with GEM in a more attractive way, stealing Microsoft’s thunder before Gates’ balls got rolling properly with Windows 3.x. It’s one of the many, many what-ifs in this sector, but not one you often hear or read about.

Adobe’s hidden cancellation fee is unlawful, FTC suit says

To lock subscribers into recurring monthly payments, Adobe would typically pre-select by default its most popular “annual paid monthly” plan, the FTC alleged. That subscription option locked users into an annual plan despite paying month to month. If they canceled after a two-week period, they’d owe Adobe an early termination fee (ETF) that costs 50 percent of their remaining annual subscription. The “material terms” of this fee are hidden during enrollment, the FTC claimed, only appearing in “disclosures that are designed to go unnoticed and that most consumers never see.”

↫ Ashley Belanger at Ars Technica

There’s a sucker for every corporation, but I highly doubt there’s anyone out there who would consider this a fair business practice. This is so obviously designed to hide costs during sign-up, and then unveil them when the user considers quitting. If this is deemed legal or allowed, you can expect everyone to jump on this bandwagon to scam users out of their money.

It goes further than this, though. According to the FTC, Adobe knew this practice was shady, but continued it anyway because altering it would negatively affect the bottom line. The FTC is actually targeting two Adobe executives directly, which is always nice to hear – it’s usually management that pushes such illegal practices through, leaving the lower ranks little choice but to comply or lose their job.

Stuff like this is exactly why confidence in the major technology companies is at an all-time low.

Cinnamon 6.2 released

Cinnamon, the popular GTK desktop environment developed by the Linux Mint project, pushed out Cinnamon 6.2 today, which will serve as the default desktop for Linux Mint 22. It’s a relatively minor release, but it does contain a major new feature which is actually quite welcome: a new GTK frontend for GNOME Online Accounts, part of the XApp project. This makes it possible to use the excellent GNOME Online Accounts framework, without having to resort to a GNOME application – and will come in very handy on other GTK desktops, too, like Xfce.

The remainder of the changes consist of a slew of bugfixes, small new features, and nips and tucks here and there. Wayland support is still an in-progress effort for Cinnamon, so you’ll be stuck with X for now.

Meta halts plans to train machine learning on Facebook, Instagram posts in EU

It seems that if you want to steer clear from having Facebook use your Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. data for machine learning training, you might want to consider moving to the European Union.

Meta has apparently paused plans to process mounds of user data to bring new AI experiences to Europe.

The decision comes after data regulators rebuffed the tech giant’s claims that it had “legitimate interests” in processing European Union- and European Economic Area (EEA)-based Facebook and Instagram users’ data—including personal posts and pictures—to train future AI tools.

↫ Ashley Belanger

These are just the opening salvos of the legal war that’s brewing here, so who knows how it’s going to turn out. For now, though, European Union Facebook users are safe from Facebook’s machine learning training.

Vinix now runs Solitaire

Way, way back in the cold and bleak days of 2021, I mentioned Vinix on OSNews, an operating system written in the V programming language. A few days ago, over on Mastodon, the official account for the V programming language sent out a screenshot showing Solitaite running on Vinix, showing off what the experimental operating system can do.

The project doesn’t seem to really publish any changelogs or release notes, so it’s difficult to figure out what, exactly, is going on at the moment. The roadmap indicates they’ve already got a solid base going to work from, such as mlibc, bash, GCC/G++, X and an X window manager, and more – with things like Wayland, networking, and more on the roadmap.

Microsoft starts beating the Windows 11 PR drum in face of reluctant Windows 10 users

I have a feeling Microsoft is really starting to feel some pressure about its plans to abandon Windows 10 next year. Data shows that 70% of Windows users are still using Windows 10, and this percentage has proven to be remarkably resilient, making it very likely that hundreds of millions of Windows users will be out of regular, mainstream support and security patches next year. It seems Microsoft is, therefore, turning up the PR campaign, this time by publishing a blog post about myths and misconceptions about Windows 11.

The kind of supposed myths and misconceptions Microsoft details are exactly the kind of stuff corporations with large deployments worry about at night. For instance, Microsoft repeatedly bangs the drum on application compatibility, stating that despite the change in number – 10 to 11 – Windows 11 is built on the same base as its predecessor, and as such, touts 99.7% application compatibility. Furthermore, Microsoft adds that if businesses to suffer from an incompatibility, they can use something call App Assure – which I will intentionally mispronounce until the day I die because I’m apparently a child – to fix any issues.

Apparently, the visual changes to the user interface in Windows 11 are also a cause of concern for businesses, as Microsoft dedicated an entire entry to this, citing a study that the visual changes do not negatively impact productivity. The blog post then goes on to explain how the changes are actually really great and enhance productivity – you know, the usual PR speak.

There’s more in the blog post, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more and more of this kind of PR offensive as the cut-off date for Windows 10 support nears. Windows 10 users will probably also see more and more Windows 11 ads when using their computers, too, urging them to upgrade even when they very well cannot because of missing TPMs or unsupported processors. I don’t think any of these things will work to bring that 70% number down much over the next 12 months, and that’s a big problem for Microsoft.

I’m not going to make any predictions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft will simply be forced by, well, reality to extend the official support for Windows 10 well beyond 2025. Especially with all the recent investigations into Microsoft’s shoddy internal security culture, there’s just no way they can cut 70% of their users off from security updates and patches.

Mobile comms via satellite for backcountry and maritime safety

Stranded on a desert island; lost in the forest; stuck in the snow; injured and unable to get back to civilization. Human beings have used their ingenuity for millennia to try to signal for rescue. there’s been a progression of technological innovations: smoke signals, mirrors, a loud whistle, a portable radio, a mobile phone. With each invention, it’s been possible to venture a little farther from populated areas and still have peace of mind about being able to call for help.

But once you get past the range of a terrestrial radio tower, whether it’s into the wilderness or out at sea, it starts to get more complicated and expensive to be able to call for rescue. In the next year or so, it’s going to become a lot simpler and less expensive. Probably enough to become ubiquitous. Hardware infrastructure is already in place, and the relevant software and service support is rolling out now.

It’s been possible for decades for adventurers to keep in contact via satellite. The first commercial maritime satellite communications was launched in 1976. Globalstar and Iridium launched in the late 90s and drove down the device size and service cost of satellite phones. However, the service was a lot more expensive than cellular phone service, and not enough people were willing to pay for remote comms to be able to overcome the massive infrastructure costs, and both companies went bankrupt. Their investors lost their money, but the satellites still worked, so once the bankruptcies were hashed out they fulfilled their promise, as least technologically.

On a parallel track, in the late 1980s International Cospas-Sarsat Programme was set up to develop a system for satellite aided search and rescue system that detects and locates emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and people engaged in recreational activities in remote areas, and then sends these distress alerts to search-and-rescue (SAR) authorities. Many types of beacons are available, and nowadays they send exact GPS coordinates along with the call for rescue.

In the 2010s, the Satellite Emergency Notification Device or SEND device was brought to market. These are portable beacons that connect to the Globalstar and Iridium networks and allow people in remote areas not only to call for help in emergencies, but also to communicate via text messaging. Currently the two most popular SEND devices are the Garmin inReach Mini 2 and the Spot X. These devices cost $400 and $250 USD respectively, and require monthly service fees of $12-40. For someone undertaking a long and dangerous expedition into the backcountry, these are very reasonable costs, especially for someone who does it often. But for most people, it’s just not practical to pay for and carry a device like that “just in case.”

In 2022, the iPhone 14 included a feature that was the first step in taking satellite-based communication into the mainstream. It allows iPhone users to share their location via Find My feature with new radio hardware that connects to the Globalstar service. So if you’re out adventuring, your friends can keep track of where you are. And if there’s an emergency, you can make an emergency SOS. It’s not just a generic Mayday: you can text specific details about your emergency and it will be transmitted to the local authorities. You can also choose to notify your personal emergency contacts.

Last week, at WWDC, Apple announced the next stage: in iOS 18, iMessage users will be able to send text messages over satellite, using the same Globalstar network as its SOS features. Initially at least, this feature is expected to be free. With this expansion, iPhone users will have the basic functionality of a SPOT or inReach device, without special hardware or a monthly fee.

SpaceX’s Starlink, which first offered service in 2021, has much higher bandwidth and lower latency than the Globalstar and Iridium networks. Starlink’s current offering requires a dinner plate sized antenna and conventional networking hardware to enable high bandwidth mobile internet. It’s great for a vehicle, but impractical for a backpacker. However, SpaceX has announced 2nd generation satellites that can connect to 1900MHz spectrum mobile phone radios, and T-Mobile has announced that it will be enabling the service for its customers in late 2024, and Apple, Google, and Samsung devices are confirmed to be supported. Initially, like Apple’s service, this will be restricted to text messaging and other low-bandwidth applications. Phone calls and higher bandwidth internet connectivity are promised in 2025.

The other two big US carriers, AT&T and Verizon, have announced they will be partnering with a competing service, AST SpaceMobile, but it’s unlikely those plans will come to fruition very soon. Mobile phone users outside the US will also need to wait. Apple’s Message via satellite is only announced for US users, as is T-Mobile’s offering.

So if you’re in the US, and have an iPhone, or are a T-Mobile subscriber with an Apple, Samsung, or Google device, you’ll soon be able to point your phone at the sky, even in remote areas, to call for help, give your friends an update on your expedition, or just stay in touch. Pretty soon, Tom Hanks won’t have to make friends with a volleyball when he crash lands on a deserted island, at least not until his battery dies.

StreamOS source code republished 15 years later

Way, way, way back in 2009, we reported on a small hobby operating system called StreamOS – version 0.21-RC1 had just been released that day. StreamOS was a 32-bit operating system written in Object Pascal using the Free Pascal Compiler, running on top of FreeDOS. It turns out that its creator, Oleksandr Natalenko (yes, the same person), recovered the old code, and republished it on Codeberg for posterity.

It’s not a complete history, rather a couple of larger breadcrumbs stuck together with git. I didn’t do source code management much back in the days, and there are still some intermediate dev bits scattered across my backup drive that I cannot even date properly, but three branches I pushed (along with binaries, btw; feel free to fire up that qemu of yours and see how it crashes!) should contain major parts of what was done.

↫ Oleksandr Natalenko

It may not carry the same import as Doom for the SNES, but it’s still great to see such continuity 15 years apart. I hope Natalenko manages to recover the remaining bits and bobs too, because you may never know – someone might be interested in picking up this 15 year old baton.

Doom for SNES full source code released by former Sculptured Software employees

The complete source code for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) version of Doom has been released on archive.org. Although some of the code was partially released a few years ago, this is the first time the full source code has been made publicly available.

↫ Shaun James at GBAtemp

The code was very close to being lost forever, down to a corrupted disk that had to be fixed. It’s crazy how much valuable, historically relevant code we’re just letting rot away for no reason.

A brief history of Mac enclaves and exclaves

Howard Oakley has written an interesting history of secure enclaves on the Mac, and when he touches upon “exclaves”, a new concept that doesn’t have a proper term yet, he mentions something interesting.

While an enclave is a territory entirely surrounded by the territory of another state, an exclave is an isolated fragment of a state that exists separately from the main part of that state. Although exclave isn’t a term normally used in computing, macOS 14.4 introduced three kernel extensions concerned with exclaves. They seem to have appeared first in iOS 17, where they’re thought to code domains isolated from the kernel that protect key functions in macOS even when the kernel becomes compromised. This in turn suggests that Apple is in the process of refactoring the kernel into a central micro-kernel with protected exclaves. This has yet to be examined in Sequoia.

↫ Howard Oakley

I’m not going to add too much here since I’m not well-versed enough in the world of macOS to add anything meaningful, but I do think it’s an interesting theory worth looking into by people who posses far more knowledge about this topic than I do.

Can you blow a PC speaker with a Linux kernel module?

Sometimes you come across a story that’s equally weird and delightful, and this is definitely one of them. Oleksandr Natalenko posted a link on Mastodon to a curious email sent to the Linux Kernel Mailing List, which apparently gets sent to the LKML every single year. The message is very straightforward.

Is it possible to write a kernel module which, when loaded, will blow the PC speaker?

↫ R.F. Burns on the LKML

Since this gets sent every year, it’s most likely some automated thing that’s more of a joke than a real request at this point. However, originally, there was a real historical reason behind the inquiry, as Schlemihl Schalmeier on Mastodon points out. They link to the original rationale behind the request, posted to the LKML after the request was first made, all the way back in 2007.

At the time, the author was helping a small school system manage a number of Linux workstations, and the students there were abusing the sound cards on those workstations for shenanigans. They addressed this by only allowing users with root privileges access to the sound devices. However, kids are smart, and they started abusing the PC speaker instead, and even unloading the PC speaker kernel module didn’t help because the kids found ways to abuse the PC speaker outside of the operating system (the BIOS maybe? I have no idea).

And so, the author notes, the school system wanted them to remove the PC speakers entirely, but this would be a very fiddly and time-consuming effort, since there were a lot of PCs, and of course, this would all have to be done on-site – unlike the earlier solutions which could all be done remotely.

So, the idea was raised about seeing if there was a way to blow the PC speaker by loading a kernel module.  If so, a mass-deployment of a kernel module overnight would take care of the PC speaker problem once and for all.

↫ R.F. Burns on the LKML

So, that’s the original story behind the request. It’s honestly kind of ingenious, and it made me wonder if the author got a useful reply on the LKML, and if such a kernel module was ever created. The original thread didn’t seem particularly conclusive to me, and the later yearly instances of the request don’t seem to yield much either. It seems unlikely to me this is possible at all.

Regardless, this is a very weird bit of Linux kernel lore, and I’d love to know if there’s more going on. Various parts of the original rationale seem dubious to me, such as the handwavy thing about abusing the PC speaker outside of the operating system, and what does “abusing” the PC speaker even mean in the first place?

As Natalenko notes, it seems there’s more to this story, and I’d love to find out what it is.