A detailed look at Ubuntu’s new experimental ZFS installer

Yesterday brought exciting news on the ZFS and Ubuntu fronts—experimental ZFS root support in the installer for Ubuntu’s upcoming interim release, Eoan Ermine. The feature appeared in the 2019-10-09 daily build of Eoan—it’s not in the regular beta release and, in fact, wasn’t even in the “current daily” when we first went to download it. It’s that new! (Readers wanting to play with the new functionality can find it in today’s daily build, available here.)

Ars takes a look at this feature that’s clearly in still in alpha.

DuckDuckGo Search improvements: past year date filter, dark theme refinements, and more

While we’ve been busily improving our privacy protection ducklings — like DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser (for iOS/Android) and DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials (for Firefox/Chrome) — we haven’t been neglecting our first born — DuckDuckGo Private Search! In fact, quite the opposite — we’ve made several improvements recently that we’re excited to share with you. They should make your searching not only more effective, but also a more pleasant experience, and still of course with our same strict commitment to privacy: no personal information is associated with your searches, such that you have no search history and therefore no search profiling or ads following you around based on your searches.

Some solid improvements all around, but nothing earth-shattering.

Flash is responsible for the internet’s most creative era

These days, our web browsers—whether on mobile or desktop—are highly functional and can do all sorts of things that we could only dream of a decade prior.

But despite that, one could argue that the web has actually gotten less creative over time, not more. This interpretation of events is a key underpinning of Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990-Today (Taschen, $50), a new visual-heavy book from author Rob Ford and editor Julius Wiedemann that does something that hasn’t been done on the broader internet in quite a long time: It praises the use of Flash as a creative tool, rather than a bloated malware vessel, and laments the ways that visual convention, technical shifts, and walled gardens have started to rein in much of this unvarnished creativity.

This is a realm where small agencies supporting big brands, creative experimenters with nothing to lose, and teenage hobbyists could stand out simply by being willing to try something risky. It was a canvas with a built-in distribution model. What wasn’t to like, besides a whole host of malware?

I don’t think you can argue that the the Flash era yielded more creativity than, say, the whole of YouTube, but if you restrict the internet to just actual websites, there may be something to be said for this. I remember so many cool and amazing – at the time – Flash projects that you’d stumble across back when Flash was a normal, accepted thing, and those things have gone away, replaced not by cool HTML5 equivalents – as was promised – but by bland samey-samey websites, with far less creativity.

I surely don’t mourn the loss of Flash, but it also wasn’t all bad.

Apple of 2019 is the Linux of 2000

After my blood pressure dropped to healthier levels I got the strangest feeling of déjà vu. This felt exactly like using Linux in the early 2000s. Things break at random for reasons you can’t understand and the only way to fix it is to find terminal commands from discussion forums, type them in and hope for the best. Then it hit me.

This was not an isolated incidence. The parallels are everywhere.

I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but there’s definitely a kernel of truth to the perception that macOS just doesn’t feel as polished and effortless as it once was, during the Leopard days.

Apple Safari browser sends some user IP addresses to Chinese conglomerate Tencent by default

During the last week, the reality that US companies often bend the knee to China has been thrown into the spotlight. Apple, one of the biggest US tech companies, has appeased China by hiding the Taiwan flag emoji and ignoring US lawmakers when choosing to ban a Hong Kong protest safety app. Now it’s been discovered that Apple, which often positions itself as a champion of privacy and human rights, is sending some IP addresses from users of its Safari browser on iOS to Chinese conglomerate Tencent – a company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

Apple admits that it sends some user IP addresses to Tencent in the “About Safari & Privacy” section of its Safari settings which can be accessed on an iOS device by opening the Settings app and then selecting “Safari > About Privacy & Security.”

I’m sure the genocidal totalitarian surveillance state that is China won’t be abuse this information at all. They pinky-promised to Tim Cook, who was busy telling his company not to make any TV shows critical of China – in line with the rest of Hollywood.

Tim Cook makes false claims to rationalise Apple’s China appeasement

Apple CEO Tim Cook has sent an email to employees with a lengthier explanation for why the company chose to remove HKmap.live from the App Store yesterday. Similar to Apple’s statement last night, Cook claims that the app — a crowdsourced mapping tool that’s become useful amid the ongoing protests in Hong Kong — was being misused in ways that could threaten public safety.

Tim Cook’s email is riddled with nonsense, so I’ll let people more knowledgeable than me debunk this weak excuse of an explanation as to why Apple is bending over backwards to please a brutal communist genocidal dictatorship. The claims made by Cook simply don’t hold up, he again refuses to cite which Hong Kong laws are being broken, and countless of Apple’s own services are being used for the same purposes as HKmap.live. Will iMessage be removed next? AirDrop?

Tim Cook is a coward.

New VxWorks release released

From the obtuse press release:

• First and only real-time operating system to support C++17, Boost, Python, and Rust collection of technologies, along with continued support for languages like Ada and SPARK

• New LLVM-based infrastructure that enables support for a broad set of modern and productive tools and frameworks

• New open source board support packages (BSPs) such as Raspberry Pi and TI Sitara AM65x for quick prototyping and flexibility of choice

• OpenSSL 1.1.1 for the most up-to-date cryptography libraries

Very informative headline, I know, but VxWorks isn’t exactly a very approachable topic, so I had to make do.

Apple removes app used in Hong Kong protests after pressure from China

Apple has removed HKmap.live, a crowdsourced mapping app widely used by Hong Kong residents, from the App Store. The app and accompanying web service has been used to mark the locations of police and inform about street closures during the ongoing pro-democracy protests that have engulfed Hong Kong this year.

Apple initially rejected HKmap.live from the App Store earlier this month, then reversed its decision a few days later. Now it has reversed its reversal.

Tim Cook is a coward.

Apple removes Quartz news app from the Chinese App Store over Hong Kong coverage

News organization Quartz tells The Verge that Apple has removed its mobile app from the Chinese version of its App Store after complaints from the Chinese government. According to Quartz, this is due to the publication’s ongoing coverage of the Hong Kong protests, and the company says its entire website has also been blocked from being accessed in mainland China.

The publication says it received a notice from Apple that the app “includes content that is illegal in China.”

I’ve been highlighting Apple’s and Tim Cook’s hypocrisy for years now, but I’ve always felt like a man screaming into the void. It’s interesting to see the media finally waking up to just how much their innate love for Apple and Tim Cook has allowed the wool to be pulled over their eyes.

The modular PC: Intel’s new Element brings Project Christine to life

Way back at CES 2014, Razer’s CEO introduced a revolutionary concept design for a PC that had one main backplane and users could insert a CPU, GPU, power supply, storage, and anything else in a modular fashion. Fast forward to 2020, and Intel is aiming to make this idea a reality. Today at a fairly low-key event in London, Intel’s Ed Barkhuysen showcased a new product, known simply as an ‘Element’ – a CPU/DRAM/Storage on a dual-slot PCIe card, with Thunderbolt, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and USB, designed to slot into a backplane with multiple PCIe slots, and paired with GPUs or other accelerators. Behold, Christine is real, and it’s coming soon.

Anything to compete with the default ATX design of a PC is welcome, and this looks incredibly interesting.

Apple under fire from China over HKmap.live app that tracks police activity amid Hong Kong protests

Chinese state media on Tuesday accused Apple Inc of protecting “rioters” in Hong Kong and enabling illegal behaviour, after the US-based technology giant listed on its app store an application that tracks police activity in the city.

Apple had previously rejected the app, called HKmap.live, but reversed its decision on Friday and made the programme available for download from the iOS App Store on Saturday, according to the program’s developer.

It will be interesting to see if Apple bows to Chinese pressure and removes the application. Apple already bows to Chinese censorship, so I wouldn’t be surprised.

Blizzard failed to make a stand for anything but China and money

Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung is a professional Hearthstone player who supported the protests happening in Hong Kong against China during a post-win interview for the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament on Sunday. Hearthstone publisher Blizzard Entertainment responded with a harsh punishment, banning Blitzchung from the digital card game’s esports for a year and taking his prize money from Grandmasters.

Blizzard also says it will no longer work with the two casters who covered the event, who literally ducked behind their desk when Blitzchung voiced his support for Honk Kong’s protest. Usually, players are banned from Blizzard esports for cheating. But Blitzchung did not cheat.

Blizzard is partially owned by the Chinese company Tencent, and the Chinese market is hugely important for the game maker – as such, it does not want to offend the Chinese government. Like the NBA, yet another American enterprise subjected to Chinese censorship.

Collapse O: bootstrap post-collapse technology

I expect our global supply chain to collapse before we reach 2030. With this collapse, we won’t be able to produce most of our electronics because it depends on a very complex supply chain that we won’t be able to achieve again for decades (ever?).

[…]

Among these scavenged parts are microcontrollers, which are especially powerful but need complex tools (often computers) to program them. Computers, after a couple of decades, will break down beyond repair and we won’t be able to program microcontrollers any more.

To avoid this fate, we need to have a system that can be designed from scavenged parts and program microcontrollers. We also need the generation of engineers that will follow us to be able to create new designs instead of inheriting a legacy of machines that they can’t recreate and barely maintain.

This is where Collapse OS comes in.

That’s one way to introduce an operating system. This is a very unique project aimed at creating an operating system that can run on microcontrollers and which can self-replicate.

macOS Catalina: the MacStories review

macOS Catalina has been reviewed, and taking over from John Siracusa’s legendary Mac OS X reviews at Ars Technica is MacStories.

The Mac isn’t in crisis, but it isn’t healthy either. Waiting until the Mac is on life support isn’t viable. Instead, Apple has opted to reimagine the Mac in the context of today’s computing landscape before its survival is threatened. The solution is to tie macOS more closely to iOS and iPadOS, making it an integrated point on the continuum of Apple’s devices that respects the hardware differences of the platform but isn’t different simply for the sake of difference.

Transitions are inherently messy, and so is Catalina in places. It’s a work in process that represents the first steps down a new path, not the destination itself. The destination isn’t clear yet, but Catalina’s purpose is: it’s a bridge, not an island.

You know where to get Catalina, but it might be a good idea to wait a few point releases before diving in.

Apple hides Taiwan flag in Hong Kong

The change, first discovered by iOS Developer Hiraku Wang, means that users with an iOS device region set to Hong Kong will see one less flag on the emoji keyboard than if the region is set to anywhere else in the world (other than China mainland, which also hides this flag).

Notably, the emoji 🇹🇼 Flag: Taiwan is still supported by iOS in Hong Kong. As of iOS 13.1.2, released last week, this is now hidden from the emoji keyboard but remains available by other means.

Geopolitics on your emoji keyboard.

What the heck is Windows 10X?

If we consult years of insider whispers about Microsoft’s alleged internal strategy for Windows, many from The Verge’s own Tom Warren, there’s a simple reason why you shouldn’t care whether Windows 10X ships on just a few devices or thousands. That’s because Windows 10X is likely just a modular shell that gives the core Windows operating system a new user interface to do the tricks you see in these videos.

And it all comes back to the philosophical question of what “Windows” really is now.

[…]

As Tom and fellow reporters have discovered, Microsoft has been building a new Windows Core OS (WCOS) that will serve as the new modular backbone of Windows. It can be paired with a different user interface for different types of displays by adapting what Microsoft’s calling a Composable Shell, or CShell (say it out loud), to each new interface.

I hope Microsoft will eventually give users the choice to switch between the various shells whenever they so desire. And if not – the community will take care of it.

Windows Phone was never on the table for Microsoft’s new Surface Duo smartphone

Those dual-screened experiences Panay describes are just as reliant on the software working well as they are on the two screens existing side by side. And that’s where Android comes in. At some point Microsoft determined that if you can’t beat them, you need to join them and try your darnedest to differentiate. It will attempt to make Microsoft apps the best Microsoft apps you can get on an Android device.

When I ask him if he ever considered reviving a Windows mobile OS, Panay says no. Twice. And he says it firmly. “At the end of the day, where the applications sit today, the opportunity that people have already leaned into, that developers have already taken advantage of—it’s right there. And there’s a reality to that. To ignore that would be silly.”

Of course they never considered using Windows for a mobile phone. That ship has sailed, crashed, and sunk, and the market just isn’t open to any new entrants, as the lack of response to this change.org petition illustrates.

Attorney general Bill Barr will ask Zuckerberg to halt plans for end-to-end encryption across Facebook’s apps

Attorney General Bill Barr, along with officials from the United Kingdom and Australia, is set to publish an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to delay plans for end-to-end encryption across its messaging services until it can guarantee the added privacy does not reduce public safety.

A draft of the letter, dated Oct. 4, is set to be released alongside the announcement of a new data-sharing agreement between law enforcement in the US and the UK; it was obtained by BuzzFeed News ahead of its publication.

The forces are closing in on end-to-end encryption, and with the bizarre constitutional crises both the US and the UK are experiencing, I would be even more worried about this than I’d be under normal circumstances.