Personal FreeBSD PKGBASE update server

FreeBSD UNIX system can be updated in many ways. You can use freebsd-update(8) command to fetch and install the official binary patches. You can download the FreeBSD sources and compile your new version. You can download and install base.txz and kernel.txz sets in a new ZFS Boot Environment along with copying over your config files there – Other FreeBSD Version in ZFS Boot Environment – as documented here.

While for most users these three options will be more then enough – there is a small group or people that need something else. Companies. People that like to use custom FreeBSD version or enterprise corporate world that needs to fulfill many compliance regulations. For their multiple reasons – including but not limited to – security – they want to have their own trusted FreeBSD update infra under their control.

↫ vermaden

It’s from vermaden, so if you’re a FreeBSD user, you know you’re getting good information. Their website is a treasure trove of incredibly detailed information about pretty much everything related to installing, running, and living with FreeBSD.

Google partially staged their Gemini “AI” video

It turns out that fancy video Google made to show off its new “AI” was… Well, not “faked”, but definitely a bit staged.

Google also admits that the video is edited. “For the purposes of this demo, latency has been reduced and Gemini outputs have been shortened for brevity,” it states in its YouTube description. This means the time it took for each response was actually longer than in the video.

In reality, the demo also wasn’t carried out in real time or in voice. When asked about the video by Bloomberg Opinion, a Google spokesperson said it was made by “using still image frames from the footage, and prompting via text,” and they pointed to a site showing how others could interact with Gemini with photos of their hands, or of drawings or other objects. In other words, the voice in the demo was reading out human-made prompts they’d made to Gemini, and showing them still images. That’s quite different from what Google seemed to be suggesting: that a person could have a smooth voice conversation with Gemini as it watched and responded in real time to the world around it.

↫ Parmy Olson for Bloomberg

Companies always lie. It’s in their nature.

Fairphone 5: Keeping it 10/10?

When I started taking apart the Fairphone 5, I didn’t really expect any surprises. 

Having dis- and reassembled the previous model several times, I had some experience with Fairphone’s approach to building a smartphone: Modularity paired with easy access to all major components. 

It’s a winning formula for a repairable smartphone they have iterated on several times now. So, what’s actually different this time around—apart from a new and shiny OLED screen and beefed up cameras?

↫ Manuel Haeussermann for iFixit

Spoiler: it’s still a 10/10 for repairability, but with new niceties to make the process even more pleasant.

HP misreads room, awkwardly brags about its “less hated” printers

HP knows people have grown to hate printers. It even knows that people hate HP printers. But based on a new marketing campaign the company launched, HP is OK with that—so long as it can convince people that there are worse options out there.

The marketing campaign hitting parts of Europe aims to present HP as real and empathetic. The tagline “Made to be less hated” seems to acknowledge people’s frustration with printers. But HP’s a top proponent of the exact sort of money-grabbing, disruptive practices that have turned people against printers.

↫ Scharon Harding at Ars Technica

I need to print something maybe a few times a year, and I still hate dealing with my printer more than any other tech item in my house. Everything about them is bad, and no cutesy marketing campaign centrered on them being bad is going to change that.

Sony officially launches its PS5 Access Controller for disabled gamers

The controller, which was created in collaboration with disabled gaming groups such as AbleGamers, Stack-Up, and SpecialEffect, has a unique circular design. The controller comes with a number of different button caps, along with three stick caps that can be changed out to suit the specific needs of the gamer. The controller itself is also designed to rest on a flat surface for players that would require that kind of feature.

↫ John Callaham at Neowin

Microsoft has a similar product as well, and it’s great that disabled people who want to play games are being taken so much more seriously these days. Excellent work from both console giants.

systemd 255 released

systemd 255 has been released, and it contains one particular new feature I want to highlight.

A new component “systemd-bsod” has been added to show logged error messages full-screen if they have a “LOG_EMERG” log level. This is intended as a tool for displaying emergency log messages full-screen on boot failures. Yes, BSOD in this case short for “Blue Screen of Death”. This was worked on as part of Outreachy 2023. The systemd-bsod will also display a QR code for getting more information on the error causing the boot failure.

↫ Michael Larabel at Phoronix

I like this. Operating systems usually have excellent logging capabilities, but getting to these logs and making sense of them isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not elbow-deep in the weeds of how your operating system of choice works. Giving a useful error screen when things really hit a brick wall at 200 km/h is a good thing, and will make at least some troubleshooting easier.

Federal government is using data from push notifications to track contacts

Government investigators in the United States have used push notification data to pursue people of interest, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department, revealing for the first time a way in which Americans can be tracked through a basic service provided by their smartphones.

Wyden’s letter said the Justice Department had prohibited Apple and Google from discussing the technique and asked it to change the rule, noting that his office had received a tip that foreign governments had also begun requesting the push-notification data.

↫ Drew Harwell for The Washington Post

Not surprising, of course. The one nugget of good news here is that while Apple’s policy is to hand over this data after a mere subpoena (“privacy is a fundamental human right“, everybody), Google requires an actual court order, meaning federal officials must convince a judge of the validity of the request. Assuming this is not a nebulous secret backroom deal but a proper judicial process, I’m actually okay with that – law enforcement does need the ability to investigate potential criminals, and as long as this happens within the boundaries of the law and properly overseen and approved by the judiciary every step along the way, I can support it.

Introducing Gemini: Google’s largest and most capable AI model

This promise of a world responsibly empowered by AI continues to drive our work at Google DeepMind. For a long time, we’ve wanted to build a new generation of AI models, inspired by the way people understand and interact with the world. AI that feels less like a smart piece of software and more like something useful and intuitive — an expert helper or assistant.

Today, we’re a step closer to this vision as we introduce Gemini, the most capable and general model we’ve ever built.

Gemini is the result of large-scale collaborative efforts by teams across Google, including our colleagues at Google Research. It was built from the ground up to be multimodal, which means it can generalize and seamlessly understand, operate across and combine different types of information including text, code, audio, image and video.

Demis Hassabis on Google’s official blog

It’s no secret I’m not particularly impressed by “AI”, not least because its ability to autocomplete complete nonsense based on copyrighted works it’s drawing from without permission and the dangers this might represent to our society. That being said, Google’s new “AI” thing, as demonstrated in this video, actually seems a tiny bit impressive. It still looks like to me like it’s just blurting out random information using fairly mundane things like object and speech recognition, but the fluidity of it all definitely feels a lot more natural than whatever OpenAI and Microsoft have shown so far.

I’m still not even remotely interested in any of this stuff, but this at least seems slightly more possibly useful than other examples I’ve seen so far.

Windows 10 gets three more years of security updates, if you can afford them

Windows 10’s end-of-support date is October 14, 2025. That’s the day that most Windows 10 PCs will receive their last security update and the date when most people should find a way to move to Windows 11 to ensure that they stay secure.

As it has done for other stubbornly popular versions of Windows, though, Microsoft is offering a reprieve for those who want or need to stay on Windows 10: three additional years of security updates, provided to those who can pay for the Extended Security Updates (ESU) program.

↫ Andrew Cunningham for Ars Technica

Getting users to upgrade from Windows 10 to 11 at that point isn’t going to be easy, because at this point Windows 10 users who can technically upgrade are clearly not doing so for a reason. I also wonder what this will mean for the large number of Windows 10 users who simply cannot upgrade because they have a processor that’s artificially restricted from running Windows 11.

Firefox on the brink?

A somewhat obscure guideline for developers of U.S. government websites may be about to accelerate the long, sad decline of Mozilla’s Firefox browser. There already are plenty of large entities, both public and private, whose websites lack proper support for Firefox; and that will get only worse in the near future, because the ’fox’s auburn paws are perilously close to the lip of the proverbial slippery slope.

↫ Bryce Wray

US government guidelines say that US government websites only need to be tested on browsers with more than 2% market share – and Firefox is getting perilously close to that threshold. While it won’t kill Firefox overnight, it would definitely make Firefox progressively more cumbersome to use for American users, and could have ripple effects elsewhere.

HP Smart is auto installing on Windows 11 and Windows 10 on non HP-machines

According to our tests and reports seen by us, HP Smart is auto-installing on all versions of Windows that use Microsoft Store, including Windows 11 23H2 or 22H2. HP Smart is an app that allows you to manage HP printers, and it’s typically pre-installed on HP PCs. It’s not supposed to be installed when you’re not using an HP device like a PC or printer.

However, the Microsoft Store is auto-installing the “HP Smart” app on Windows installations.

↫ Mayank Parmar for Windows Latest

Microsoft is giving away free applications to Windows users the world over, and even installing it for them! What a nice, altruistic gesture. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Rest in peace, Optane

Intel’s Optane memory modules launched with a lot of fanfare in 2015, and were recently discontinued, in 2022, with similar fanfare. It was a sad day for me, a lover of abstraction-breaking technologies, but it was forseeable and understandable.

At the time of Optane’s launch, a lot of us were excited about the idea of having a new storage tier, sitting between DRAM and flash. It was announced as having DRAM endurance and speed with the persistence and size of flash. It was a futuristic memory technology, but the technology of the future met the full force of Wright’s Law.

↫ Nima Badizadegan

I definitely remember Optane being presented as a huge deal, but it seems it fell between the cracks of other technologies developing around it and their prices dropping fast.

A year in recap: Windows accessibility

The Windows Accessibility team adheres to the disability community’s guiding principle, “nothing about us without us,” emphasizing the creation of products that empower everyone. We launched and announced new and exciting features last September through our Windows 11 2022 Update and with your feedback, we have improved upon those experiences in a number of ways.

↫ Divya Bhaskaran on Microsoft’s official Windows blog

In this blog post, Microsoft details some of the accessibility features it has added to Windows in 2023.

The hidden secrets of the Fn key on the Mac

Even if you’ve used the Mac for decades, I suspect you have never fully understood the Fn key. Not helping is the fact that Apple sometimes calls it the Function key, but all Mac keyboards already have 12 or more numbered F-for-Function keys! The Fn key first appeared in 1998 in the PowerBook G3 Series (Wallstreet) and has become a fixture in the lower-left corner of laptop keyboards ever since. The Fn key migrated to standalone keyboards only in 2007 with the release of the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, where it occupies a spot between the Delete key and the Home key. On Apple’s compact desktop keyboards, it reverts to the lower-left corner.

↫ Adam Engst at TibBITS

This article made me wonder when the Fn key first appeared, but searching for it leads to a lot of SEO spam that is clearly all wrong. As the article notes, Apple first introduced it in 1998, and IBM already it in on the monochrome ThinkPad 300 in 1992. It’s much older than that, though; the IBM PC Convertible from 1986 also had one, as did the IBM PCjr from 1984. At this point I’m starting to think it was actually a fairly common key, but with the explosion of IBM compatibles in the early ’80s it’s basically impossible to check them all, and, of course, there’s the possibility it may have existed on earlier systems, or third-party keyboards long lost to time.

This would be an interesting mystery to solve.

macOS Sonoma is setting records for update size

It was Big Sur that focussed attention on the size of macOS updates. In Mojave and earlier, updates had essentially been Installer packages that brought a minimum of overhead. By the time that many had installed Big Sur’s new Signed System Volume (SSV), we were starting to discover just how large its updates were. Those were early days with its completely new updating process that builds a new System volume, takes a snapshot of it, and constructs a tree of hashes that verify the integrity of every last bit within it.

↫ Howard Oakley

I had no idea macOS updates had become as big as they had, and good on Apple for trying to bring this back down again, and speed up installation of updates, too.

Ousted propaganda scholar Joan Donovan accuses Harvard of bowing to Meta

A prominent disinformation scholar has accused Harvard University of dismissing her to curry favor with Facebook and its current and former executives in violation of her right to free speech.

Joan Donovan claimed in a filing with the Education Department and the Massachusetts attorney general that her superiors soured on her as Harvard was getting a record $500 million pledge from Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s charitable arm.

↫Joseph Menn for The Washington Post

This is why “voting with your wallet” is such an empty platitude, usually used by corporatists trying to absolve corporations from misdeeds and shifting the blame to us, mere consumers. How on earth can us regular folks vote with our wallet when someone like Zuckerberg can just buy the entire “election” without blinking?

Launching brand new BeOS, Mac OS X, and MS-DOS T-shirts in the OSNews Merch Store!

The holidays are coming, there’s a chill in the air (literally for me, I live in the Arctic), so it’s time for a few new additions to the official OSNews Merch Store.

Do you live in the terminal, breathe the terminal? We’ve got new shirts just for you. The opening message of the terminals of Mac OS X, BeOS, and MS-DOS (let’s be generous and call MS-DOS a terminal), with a command to call an osnews directory on the file system, printed on the front of the shirt. They sport the correct fonts, background colours, and exact verbiage used in the operating systems themselves. For the Mac OS X one, I had to choose a last login date and a username, so I opted for the exact time and date of birth of my oldest son, and a username that’s a bit of an Easter egg.

These shirts of the organic cotton variety, and all proceeds go to supporting OSNews’ continued existence so we don’t have to resort to SEO crap, “AI”-generated garbage, and malvertising. Every item sold on the store generates around $10 for us, with the rest going to our partner Bonfire for producing the items and running the store.

You can also support OSNews through individual donations on Ko-Fi, by becoming a Patreon, and by supporting us through LiberaPay.

Finally: proper attribution

You may have noticed that starting today, I’ve been adding a dedicated link to the main story in every post on OSNews. Our old-fashioned 2001 method of “biggest link is main story” simply doesn’t hold up today as proper attribution, so from here on out every post will have a link marked by ↫ crediting the name and/or publication of the main linked article (or multiple where it makes sense). I’ve been unhappy with our attribution for years, and finally got my act together and settled on this solution. While I’ve had, in total, maybe no more than 2-3 complaints about this since I started in 2006 – it’s taken too long, and I apologise for that.

Credit and attribution matter.

For the curious: ↫ is part of the arrows Unicode block as U+21AB, titled “Leftwards arrow with loop”. I settled on it because the path of the loop and the arrow evoked a feeling of being yoinked back somewhere else, and that’s what a link does. Sure, I could’ve opted for a chain link or whatever, but that’s boring.

Porting Hare to OpenBSD

I was always very interested in OpenBSD and a few months ago, I decided to give it a try. I’ve quickly fallen in love with it! There is, however, a big problem: Hare does not fully support OpenBSD! So, I decided to port it and I am happy to announce that my work was merged yesterday and OpenBSD is now fully supported by Hare. Let me show you some of the tricky stuff that was involved in the port.

↫ Lorenz (xha) on the official Hare blog

Hare is a relatively new programming language, and originally only supported Linux and FreeBSD. This post details the process of porting it over to OpenBSD.