OpenIndiana Hipster 2021.04 released

After another 6 months have passed we are proud to announce the release of our 2021.04 snapshot. The images are available at the usual place. As usual we have automatically received all updates that have been integrated into illumos-gate.

The major changes are new versions of Firefox and Thunderbird, multiple NVIDIA drivers to choose from, and a lot more. For those unaware, OpenIndiana is a distribution of illumos, which in turn is the continuation of the last open source Solaris version before Oracle did what it does best and messed everything up.

Parallels Desktop 16.5 review: Windows comes to Apple Silicon (sort of)

After sixteen major releases, you might think there’s not much left to be added to Parallels Desktop – and for the vast majority of Mac users who are still using Intel CPUs, there isn’t. For them, this update to the popular virtualisation software tidies up a few bugs and adds support for the latest version of the Linux kernel, but that’s largely it. Overall it’s not even consequential enough to warrant a full ticking up of the version number. 

Yet arguably, this is the most significant release of Parallels Desktop since it first appeared in 2006. Just as version one unlocked the potential of Apple’s then-recent switch to the Intel architecture, this one breaks new ground by allowing you to install and run Windows 10 on Apple Silicon.

They conclude it’s a great first release, but that it still has ways to go.

OpenBSD 6.9 released

OpenBSD 6.9 has been released. This release focuses a lot on improving support for certain platforms, such as powerpc64 – mainly for modern POWER9 systems such as the Blackbird (which we reviewed late last year) and Talos II (which I have here now for review), arm64, and preliminary support for Apple’s ARM M1 architecture. There is way, way more in this release, of course, so feel free to peruse the release notes.

On a related note, I recently bought an HP Visualize C3750 PA-RISC workstation, and it’s been pretty much impossible to get my hands on a proper copy of HP-UX 11i v1 that works on the machine. As such, in the interim, I installed OpenBSD on it, and it’s been working like a charm. I still need to set up and try X, but other than that, it’s been a very pleasant experience. Effortless installation, good documentation, and user friendlier than I expected.

EU accuses Apple of App Store antitrust violations

The European Commission is issuing antitrust charges against Apple over concerns about the company’s App Store practices. The Commission has found that Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following an initial complaint from Spotify back in 2019. Specifically, the Commission believes Apple has a “dominant position in the market for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store.”

The EU has focused on two rules that Apple imposes on developers: the mandatory use of Apple’s in-app purchase system (for which Apple charges a 30 percent cut), and a rule forbidding app developers to inform users of other purchasing options outside of apps. The Commission has found that the 30 percent commission fee, or “Apple tax” as it’s often referred to, has resulted in higher prices for consumers. “Most streaming providers passed this fee on to end users by raising prices,” according to the European Commission.

As predicted, and entirely reasonable. This is only the first step in the process, and Apple will have the opportunity to respond. If found guilty, Apple could face a fine of more than 22 billion euro, 10% of its annual revenue, or be forced to change its business model.

Microsoft announces Windows 10 May 2021 Update (version 21H1)

The Windows 10 May 2021 Update has been finalized and Build 19043.928 is likely to be the release candidate. Unsurprisingly, May 2021 Update will begin rolling out to millions of users around the world in May, and it will ship with a few minor improvements, mostly for enterprise customers.

Microsoft has officially named the version 21H1 update as “May 2021 Update” and published the final bits in the Release Preview Channel.

I wish Microsoft would rethink its obtuse versioning and naming scheme for windows, because none of this makes any sense to me anymore. This is a small update, and mostly focused on remote work scenarios in the enterprise.

Linux 5.12 released

Linux 5.12 brings Intel Variable Rate Refresh (VRR/Adaptive-Sync), Radeon RX 6000 series overclocking support, mainline support for the Nintendo 64, the Sony PlayStation 5 DualSense controller driver, CXL 2.0 Type-3 memory device support, KFENCE, dynamic preemption capabilities, Clang link-time optimizations, laptop support improvements, and much more.

A decently sized release. My favourite is definitely adding N64 support to the kernel.

Arm announces Neoverse V1, N2 platforms and CPUs, CMN-700 Mesh

Today, we’re pivoting towards the future and the new Neoverse V1 and Neoverse N2 generation of products. Arm had already tested the new products last September, teasing a few characteristics of the new designs, but falling short of disclosing more concrete details about the new microarchitectures. Following last month’s announcement of the Armv9 architecture, we’re now finally ready to dive into the two new CPU microarchitectures as well as the new CMN-700 mesh network.

These are looking really good.

Apple will reportedly face EU antitrust charges this week

I’m linking to The Verge, since the original FT article is locked behind a paywall.

The European Commission will issue antitrust charges against Apple over concerns about the company’s App Store practices, according to a report from the Financial Times. The commission has been investigating whether Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following an initial complaint from Spotify back in 2019 over Apple’s 30 percent cut on subscriptions.

The European Commission opened up two antitrust investigations into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices last year, and the Financial Times only mentions upcoming charges on the App Store case. It’s not clear yet what action will be taken.

I’m glad both the US and EU are turning up the heat under Apple (and the other major technology companies), since their immense market power and clear-cut cases of abuse have to end. I am a strict proponent of doing what the United States used to be quite good at, and that’s breaking Apple and Google up into smaller companies forced to compete with one another and the rest of the market. The US has done it countless times before, and they should do it again.

In this specific case, Apple should be divided up into Mac hardware, mobile hardware, software (macOS, iOS, and applications), and services. This would breath immense life into the market, and would create countless opportunities for others to come in and compete. The US has taken similar actions with railroads, oil, airplanes, and telecommunications, and the technology market should be no different.

iOS 14.5, macOS 11.3 released

iOS 14.5 is a major update with a long list of new features, including the ability to unlock an iPhone with an Apple Watch, 5G support for dual-SIM users, new emoji characters, an option to select a preferred music service to use with Siri, crowd sourced data collection for Apple Maps accidents, AirPlay 2 support for Fitness+, and much more.

The update also introduces support for AirTags and Precision Finding on the iPhone 12 models, and it marks the official introduction of App Tracking Transparency. There are a long list of bug fixes, with Apple addressing everything from AirPods switching issues to the green tint that some users saw on ‌iPhone 12‌ models.

A big update for such a small version number, and a lot of good stuff in there. Apple also released macOS Big Sur 11.3, which is a smaller update than the iOS one, but still contains some nice additions such as better touch integration for running iOS apps on the Mac and improved support for game controllers.

Microsoft is building a new app store for Windows 10

Microsoft is working on a brand-new Store app for Windows 10 that will introduce a modern and fluid user interface, as well as bring changes to the policies that govern what kind of apps can be submitted to the store by developers. According to sources familiar with the matter, this new Store will pave the way to a revitalized storefront that’s more open to both end users and developers.

The biggest change is that Microsoft will supposedly allow developers to host unpackaged, unaltered, bog-standard Win32 applications in the Store. Right now, even Win32 applications need to be packaged as MSIX, but this requirement is going away. The Microsoft Store definitely needs a lot of love, but I feel like the problem isn’t the Store itself – it’s just how messy and fragmented managing applications on Windows really is.

Using a PowerBook in 2021

It has been recently announced that the venerable TenFourFox web browser for PowerPC (PPC) Macs was going to cease regular development, which rekindled my interest in playing around with my trusty PowerBook G4, which only gets occasional use if I’m testing a PowerPC version of some of my own software. Such is the way of aging hardware and software: the necessity to support them wanes over time, but it does question how useful can an 18 year old laptop be in 2021. Can it still be useful, or is it relegated to a hobbyist’s endeavors?

As usual, the internet and networking are the hurdles.

Ubuntu 21.04 released

Today, Canonical released Ubuntu 21.04 with native Microsoft Active Directory integration, Wayland graphics by default, and a Flutter application development SDK. Separately, Canonical and Microsoft announced performance optimization and joint support for Microsoft SQL Server on Ubuntu.

Ubuntu 21.04 is an important release, if only because of the switch to Wayland, following in Fedora’s footsteps. Ubuntu did opt out of shipping GNOME 40, though, so it comes with 3.38 instead. The step to Wayland is surely going to cause problems for some people, but overall, I think it’s high time and Wayland is pretty much as ready as it’s ever going to be. Remember, Wayland is not X, as I said a few months ago:

Wayland is not X.org. Let me repeat that. Wayland is not X.org. If you need the functionality that X.org delivers, then you shouldn’t be using Wayland. This is like buying a Mac and complaining your Windows applications don’t work.

With NVIDIA finally seeming to get at least somewhat on board, and X.org development basically having dried up, the time for Wayland is now.

Why does trying to break into the NT 3.1 kernel reboot my 486DX4 machine?

While installing Windows NT 3.1 worked perfectly, I really like to tinker with my retro stuff. The Windows NT 3.1 CD comes with the full set of debugging symbols, I’m curious into investigating why NetDDE throws an error into the event log, and the system crashes with a specific EISA ethernet card (which might be due to faulty hardware), so I decided to dive into kernel debugging. Setting up kernel debugging is straight-forward, once you realize you should use the i386kd executable supplied with Windows NT 3.1 instead of kd/ntkd from the current Windows 10 develepmont kit.

As soon as I want to break in (using Ctrl-C in i386kd), the target machine reboots instead of providing a kd> prompt.

Such an obscure question and bug, and yet, there’s someone providing a detailed answer – and a fix.

University banned from contributing to Linux kernel after intentionally submitting vulnerable code

A statement from the University of Minnesota Department of Computer Science & Engineering:

Leadership in the University of Minnesota Department of Computer Science & Engineering learned today about the details of research being conducted by one of its faculty members and graduate students into the security of the Linux Kernel. The research method used raised serious concerns in the Linux Kernel community and, as of today, this has resulted in the University being banned from contributing to the Linux Kernel.

We take this situation extremely seriously. We have immediately suspended this line of research. We will investigate the research method and the process by which this research method was approved, determine appropriate remedial action, and safeguard against future issues, if needed. We will report our findings back to the community as soon as practical.

This story is crazy. It turns out researchers from the University of Minnesota were intentionally trying to introduce vulnerabilities into the Linux kernel as part of some research study. This was, of course, discovered, and kernel maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman immediately banned the entire university from submitting any code to the Linux kernel. Replying to the researcher in question, Kroah-Hartman wrote:

You, and your group, have publicly admitted to sending known-buggy patches to see how the kernel community would react to them, and published a paper based on that work.

Now you submit a new series of obviously-incorrect patches again, so what am I supposed to think of such a thing?

They obviously were _NOT_ created by a static analysis tool that is of any intelligence, as they all are the result of totally different patterns, and all of which are obviously not even fixing anything at all. So what am I supposed to think here, other than that you and your group are continuing to experiment on the kernel community developers by sending such nonsense patches?

[…]

Our community does not appreciate being experimented on, and being “tested” by submitting known patches that are either do nothing on purpose, or introduce bugs on purpose. If you wish to do work like this, I suggest you find a different community to run your experiments on, you are not welcome here.

Because of this, I will now have to ban all future contributions from your University and rip out your previous contributions, as they were obviously submitted in bad-faith with the intent to cause problems.

This is obviously the only correct course of action, and the swift response by the university is the right one.

GUI app support is now available for the Windows Subsystem for Linux

WSL lets you run a Linux environment, and up until this point has focused on enabling command line tools utilities and applications. GUI app support now lets you use your favorite Linux GUI applications as well. WSL is used in a wide variety of applications, workloads, and use cases, so ultimately, it’s up to you on what you’d like to use GUI app support for.

Useful for developers who target multiple platforms.

WinGet is terrible. I want AppGet back.

It’s a year later and we can now safely conclude that WinGet is terrible. It calls itself a package manager, but it doesn’t really manage packages: it can only install them. With AppGet you could actually manage your software. If it got outdated, you could update it. If you no longer wanted it, you can uninstall it. WinGet doesn’t do that. It just downloads software and installs it.

For months there’s been “experimental” support for the most important feature of a package manager: upgrades. It just doesn’t work. Sure, it will download the updates. It’ll even pretend to install them. And if you run it again, it will do it all over again for the same packages. It’s pointless. It just pretends to upgrade software, just like it pretends to be a package manager.

One of the main reasons I use Linux is just how insanely superior installing and managing applications is on Linux compared to Windows and macOS. As a Linux Mint user, I’m part of the Debian ecosystem, meaning virtually every piece of Linux software comes packaged as a .deb (you’ll have a similar experience with e.g. RPM or Arch-based distributions), managed from one central place. I never have to think about how to install, update, or remove an application.

Windows and macOS have various different methods of installing, updating, and removing applications, and many of these methods leave files all over the place. On both Windows and macOS, you have to deal with individual per-app update tools, application stores, downloading individual updates from the web, using tacked-on, always-breaking ports systems, and it’s up to you to remember how, exactly, each application handles its installation, update, and removal procedures.

WinGet is just another mess to add to the giant pile of garbage that is managing applications on Windows.

Apple announces new iMac with M1 chip and seven color options

Apple has announced a new, redesigned 24-inch iMac, featuring an M1 chip, a 4.5K display, and a range of color options, as well as an improved cooling system, front-facing camera, speaker system, microphones, power connector, and peripherals.

These look pretty good, but they come with the same limitations as all the other identical M1 Macs – 8 GB of RAM standard with a maximum of a mere 16 GB, lacklustre graphics chip, no high refresh rate displays (in 2021!), barely any ports, zero expandability, and Linux/BSD support will always remain problematic and years behind the curve.

Good processor, but at what cost?

Power consumption of Game Boy flash cartridges

In order to research the topic, I tested the power consumption of several commonly available flash carts and some of my own designs. In this blog post I intend to show that there is more variation in flash cart power consumption than people might think, and a flash cart can even be more power efficient than a genuine cart!

Everything you ever wanted to know about the power consumption of Game Boy cartridges.

Discord will block NSFW servers on iOS

Entire servers can now be marked as NSFW if their community “is organized around NSFW themes or if the majority of the server’s content is 18+.” This label will be a requirement going forward, and Discord will proactively mark servers as NSFW if they fail to self-identify. Discord previously allowed individual channels to be marked as NSFW and age-gated.

The NSFW marker does two things. First, it prevents anyone under the age of 18 from joining. But the bigger limitation is that it prevents NSFW servers from being accessed on iOS devices — a significant restriction that’s almost certainly meant to cater to Apple’s strict and often prudish rules around nudity in services distributed through the App Store. Tumblr infamously wiped porn from its entire platform in order to come into compliance with Apple’s rules.

There’s two things happening here. There’s the tighter restrictions by Discord, which I think are reasonable – you don’t want minors or adults who simply aren’t interested in rowdier conversations to accidentally walk into channels where people are discussing sex, nudity, or porn. Labeling these channels as such is, while not a panacea, an understandable move, also from a legal standpoint. I still think sex and nudity are far, far, far less damaging or worrisome than the insane amounts of brutal violence children get exposed to in movies, TV series, games, and the evening news, but I understand American culture sees these things differently.

Then there’s Apple’s demands placed on Discord. This is an absolutely bizarre move by Apple on so many levels. First, the line between porn and mere nudity is often vague and nebulous, such as in paintings or others forms of art. This could be hugely impactful to art communities sharing the things they work on. Second, Discord is primarily a platform for close-knit groups of friends, and if everyone in your friend group is over 18, there’s going to be discussions and talk about sex, nudity, porn, and other things adults tend to talk about from time to time, just as there are in real life. None of these two – art and casual conversation – are criminal, bad, or negative in any way.

And third, and this is the big one, these restrictions Apple is placing on Discord do not apply to Apple’s own applications. iMessage serves much the same function as Discord does, yet there’s no NSFW markers, 18+ warnings, or bans on such content on iMessage. Other platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the damn web through Safari, provide access to far vaster collections of the most degenerate pornography mankind ever wrought, and yet, Apple isn’t banning them either.

This just goes to show that, once again, that iPhone isn’t really yours. Apple decides how you get to use it, and you’re merely along for the $1000 ride. Android may have its problems, but at least I don’t have Tim Cook peeping over my shoulder to see if I’m looking at something he deems lewd.