Microsoft’s new browser is just like Chrome, so why switch from Chrome?

The new Edge is pretty much Chrome with an Edge skin. It does all the fancy Chrome syncing, it integrates with your browser extensions and it works with websites as well as Chrome does. Now, here’s where it gets dicey on the appeal. See, let’s say you have two products. Product A which you’ve used for a long time and like, and Product B, which is new. Product B is the same as Product A, this is good for Product B, but now you have no incentive to change. If Microsoft Edge is now Google Chrome, then Chrome users have no reason to switch to Edge. It’s a bit worse if Product B is a rebranded version of a Product C which you tried and now actively dislike. Edge is Pepsi, and Chrome is Coke except Edge also used to taste like dollar store cola before so you’re not really sure you’d want to risk it again.

I have the Edge preview installed, but I have to agree with the linked article – I really see no reason to use Chrome with an Edge skin. I used to use the original Edge because not only was it quite fast on Windows, it also integrated well with Windows both behaviourally and visually. The new Edge looks like Chrome, and just stands out like an eyesore.

I doubt the new Edge will achieve much higher user figures than the original Edge, making me wonder if it’s even worth the effort.

Hackers, farmers, and doctors unite! Support for Right to Repair laws slowly grows

Slowly but surely, though, consumers and third parties outside of vendor-sanctioned circles have been pushing to change this through so-called “right to repair” laws. These pieces of proposed legislation take different forms—19 states introduced some form of right to repair legislation in 2018, up from 12 in 2017—but generally they attempt to require companies, whether they are in the tech sector or not, to make their service manuals, diagnostic tools, and parts available to consumers and repair shops—not just select suppliers.

It’s difficult to imagine a more convincing case for the notion that politics make strange bedfellows. Farmers, doctors, hospital administrators, hackers, and cellphone and tablet repair shops are aligned on one side of the right to repair argument, and opposite them are the biggest names in consumer technology, ag equipment and medical equipment. And given its prominence in the consumer technology repair space, iFixit.com has found itself at the forefront of the modern right to repair movement.

All repair information for mobile devices, computers, etc. ought to be publicly available and free for everyone to use, no exceptions. The behaviour of companies like Apple is deeply amoral, unethical, anti-consumer, and just generally scummy.

Windows Terminal preview released on Microsoft Store

The Windows Terminal is the new, powerful, open source terminal application that was announced at Build 2019. Its main features include multiple tabs, Unicode and UTF-8 character support, a GPU accelerated text rendering engine, and custom themes, styles, and configurations.

It’s now available in the Microsoft Store, and while I’m not a huge command line user in Windows, it does feel like a night and day upgrade from cmd.exe. By default, it supports both cmd and PowerShell.

Wine developers concerned with Ubuntu dropping 32-bit support with Ubuntu 19.10

The news that Ubuntu will drop support for the 32-bit x86 architecture was discussed recently by the Wine developers, on the Wine-devel mailing list. The Wine developers are concerned with this news because many 64-bit Windows applications still use a 32-bit installer, or some 32-bit components.

That’s an interesting side-effect of going 64 bit-only that I hadn’t even considered. This can be a serious blow to Ubuntu users who use Wine, but I do wonder just how popular Wine really is.

Digging into the new features in OpenZFS post-Linux migration

ZFS on Linux 0.8 (ZoL) brought tons of new features and performance improvements when it was released on May 23. They came after Delphix announced that it was migrating its own product to Linux back in March 2018. We’ll go over some of the most exciting May features (like ZFS native encryption) here today.

For the full list—including both new features and performance improvements not covered here—you can visit the ZoL 0.8.0 release on Github. (Note that ZoL 0.8.1 was released last week, but since ZFS on Linux follows semantic versioning, it’s a bugfix release only.)

Mac Pro: all apologies, signed Apple pundits

John Khelt:

It took Apple 6 years to correct its last mistake, the trashcan Mac Pro. Part of the reason for Apple taking so long to correct mistakes is so many apologists uncritically support them. The pundits don’t get how outrageously insulting it is to drown out and ignore what enthusiast/users say they want (e.g., Macs with upgradable slots) and instead decree what pundits think you need and should be happy with. That level of uncritical support helps Apple ignore problems. The pundits are sure they know best. Remember, they declared how the trashcan Mac was also for pros, rather than being critical about how it served neither pros nor enthusiasts. Despite being wrong then, they’re happy to reassert the same now. The pundits can’t seem to think beyond wanting to curry Apple favor.

Being an Apple sycophant has its privileges after all. Maybe they’ll get to interview some Apple exec where they’ll ask banal questions and incessantly fluff Apple plastic talking points. And if they don’t play ball and choose to call Apple out on mistakes, maybe they wont get the next Apple event invite.

But maybe, if more pundits could think for themselves, and more of them would speak up for enthusiasts and users, then just maybe, Apple would be motivated to do a better job.

Right on the money.

How VisiCalc’s spreadsheets changed the world

It’s the 40th anniversary of VisiCalc, the first popular spreadsheet program, and the anniversary has prompted some new remembrances of the killer app that, true to its “power to the people” origins, got people playing with data — and, by popularizing personal computers, helped to change the world.

Something about spreadsheets popularising the PC always fascinated me. Out of all the things computers can do – it’s tabulating numbers that played an important role in their spread.

Microsoft considering a dedicated Office key for keyboards

Microsoft is considering adding a dedicated Office key to keyboards. The new key would provide additional keyboard shortcuts for Office apps, including the ability to quickly share documents and files. Microsoft has been conducting a survey with testers of the Office key, spotted by WalkingCat, and is getting feedback on how the dedicated key operates.

Microsoft appears to suggest the key will replace the secondary Windows key on the right-hand side of a keyboard, or the dedicated menu key. Microsoft’s survey, which requires a work or school Microsoft account to access, includes questions around Office key shortcuts, and asks whether testers would like to see this dedicated key on laptops. Microsoft appears to be testing the concept with its latest Windows 10 May 2019 Update.

How about we all collectively decide not to do this? The Windows key is an affront enough as it is, and I really don’t want OEMs to be strong-armed into adding another annoying, useless, user-hostile key that accidentally takes you out of games and other fullscreen applications and that is entirely useless on non-Windows operating systems.

Just, no.

Why Mazda is purging touchscreens from its vehicles

What an interesting coincidence – a story from earlier this year that lines up well with our story from yesterday.

Tablet-like touchscreens have become the ubiquitous interfaces of choice, and they’re seemingly everywhere in daily life, on everything from thermostats to coffee makers and refrigerators. But Mazda really doesn’t think they belong in cars—or at least anywhere near the driver’s seat.

It wasn’t a decision that was hastily made, according to company officials. However, as they started studying the effects of touchscreens on driving safety (and driving comfort), it soon became clear what the priorities should be with this completely new system that makes its debut in the 2019 Mazda 3.

This is a bold move by Mazda, especially now that touchscreens in cars have become such a hyped supposed selling point. I hope other manufacturers follow suit.

Lyrics site accuses Google of lifting its content

“Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, in an email message. The company said it used a watermarking system in its lyrics that embedded patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. Genius said it found more than 100 examples of songs on Google that came from its site.

Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.

When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”

This is such a clear and shut case – but I do wonder, can anyone other than the actual copyright holders even claim ownership over the lyrics? I mean, neither Genius nor Google wrote these lyrics in the first place, and yet, here they are fighting over ownership. Posting lyrics online may fall under fair use, but I doubt you’d be able to make a fair use appeal if you have a massive library of lyrics online, paid for through ads.

The touchscreen infotainment systems in new cars are a distracting mess

When I’m in charge of a car company, we’re going to have one strict rule about interior design: make it so it doesn’t cause you to crash the car.

You’d think this would already be in effect everywhere, but no. Ever since the arrival of the iPhone, car designers have aspired to replicate that sleek, glassy aesthetic within the cabin. And it never works, because you tend to look at a phone while you use it. In a car, you have this other thing you should be looking at, out there, beyond the high-resolution panoramic screen that separates your face from the splattering june bugs.

If a designer came to me with a bunch of screens, touch pads, or voice-activated haptic-palm-pad gesture controls, I’d trigger a trapdoor that caused the offender to plummet down into the driver’s seat of a Cadillac fitted with the first version of the CUE system—which incorporated a motion sensor that would actually change the screen as your finger approached it. And I’d trigger my trapdoor by turning a knob. I wouldn’t even have to look at it.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the things I dread about ever replacing my 2009 Volvo S80 are these crappy touchscreens that are added to every car these days, often of dubious quality, with no regard to user interface design or driver safety. For instance, I don’t want to take my eyes off the road just to adjust the temperature of the climate control – there should be a big, easy to find knob within arm’s reach.

This just seems extremely unsafe to me.

Subway history: how OS/2 powered the NYC subway for decades

The role of OS/2 in the NYC subway system is more of a conduit. It helps connect the various parts that people use with the parts they don’t. Waldhauer notes, “There are no user-facing applications for OS/2 anywhere in the system. OS/2 is mainly used as the interface between a sophisticated mainframe database and the simple computers used in subway and bus equipment for everyday use. As such, the OS/2 computers are just about everywhere in the system.”

At this point, we’re talking about an OS designed in the late 80s, released in the early 90s, as part of a difficult relationship between two tech giants. The MTA had to ignore most of this because it had already made its decision and changing course would cost a lot of money.

It’s sad that OS/2 – in its current form available as ArcaOS 5.0 – has a relatively steep entry price, because it’s an incredibly fun and unique operating system to play around with. I’d love to set up a VM just for fun and playing around, but at $129, I really can’t justify that.

R.T. Russell’s Z80 BBC Basic is now open source

More news from the CP/Mish front:

As part of the work I’ve been doing with cpmish I’ve been trying to track down the copyright holders of some of the more classic pieces of CP/M software and asking them to license it in a way that allows redistribution. One of the people I contacted was R.T. Russell, the author of the classic Z80 BBC BASIC, and he very kindly sent me the source and agreed to allow it to be distributed under the terms of the zlib license. So it’s now open source!

I’ve made the 37-year-old source build and added it to the cpmish respository; it works fine and is shipping with the cpmish disk images.

Ada/SPARK on Genode

The Genode OS Framework is written in C++, but has support (to one degree or another) for writing components in several other languages. Perhaps foremost of these is Ada/SPARK, thanks in part to active development/support by Componolit, which maintains the Ada/SPARK toolset for Genode (SPARK is a subset of Ada, designed to be verifiable).

On Genodians.org, there have been three recent articles exploring the use of Ada/SPARK on Genode, each approaching the subject from a different angle.

First, in “C++ and SPARK as a Continuum“, Genode co-founder Norman Feske shows how to create hybrid C++/SPARK components. There are a few restrictions, but the results fit well with the Genode component philosophy.

By regarding C++ and SPARK as a continuum rather than an black-and-white decision, we can use SPARK at places where we regard formal verification as most valuable while not restricting Genode components to be entirely static. It gives us Genode developers the chance to slowly embrace the application of formal methods and recognize their benefit in practice.

Second, Martin Stein takes the first steps toward converting (a fork of) the in-house “base-hw” kernel to Ada in “Spunky: A Kernel Using Ada – Part 1: RPC“. This is just the beginning of this project, so stay tuned.

What should I say? Thanks to the almost pedantic need for correctness of the Ada compiler and the sheer endless chain of complains it kept throwing at me, the final image worked out of the box and put a big smile on my face.

Third, Johannes Kliemann of Componolit dives into the deep end of the pool in “SPARK as an Extremum: Components in Pure SPARK“, which describes the arduous journey that led them to create an API for creating components completely in SPARK.

With the realization that generated bindings are not feasible and both binding and API need to be created by hand, previous API limitations such as functions that are not allowed in SPARK could be removed. This API should not resemble any characteristics of any language or platform that implements it. The goal was to create a pure SPARK API for asynchronous verified components. The result is the Componolit Ada Interface, an interface collection that provides component startup, shutdown and platform interaction.

As you can see, even though the Genode core has become pretty mature, there is still much interesting research and experimentation being done on the eternal quest for more trustworthy computing.

Windows 10 build 18917 begins splitting the Shell from the OS

For those who don’t know, Windows Core OS is supposed to be a new version of Windows that can adapt more easily to any kind of screen, thanks in part to a new infrastructure for the Shell, which separates it from the system itself. This means that Microsoft can create different Windows experiences for different form factors such as Lenovo’s foldable ThinkPad, while using the same core components as a base.

Yesterday, Microsoft released Windows 10 build 18917 to the Fast Ring, and while it included some welcome improvements, perhaps the most interesting change went unnoticed. Twitter user Albacore has discovered that with this build, the company has started implementing some work towards the separation of the Shell from the rest of Windows. There’s now a Shell Update Agent, which is meant to be able to update the Shell on demand.

Windows and a possible new shell are like multiplying by 0.5 – you never get quite to zero. There’s been so many rumours and leaks for so long now, one has to wonder if it will ever actually happen.