Microsoft announces a brand-new ARM-powered desktop PC and ARM-native dev tools

At its Build developer conference Tuesday, Microsoft made a few announcements aimed at bolstering Windows on Arm. The first is Project Volterra, a Microsoft-branded mini-desktop computer powered by an unnamed Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC. More relevant for developers who already have Arm hardware, Volterra will be accompanied by a fully Arm-native suite of developer tools.

According to Microsoft’s blog post, the company will be releasing ARM-native versions of Visual Studio 2022 and VSCode, Visual C++, Modern .NET 6, the classic .NET framework, Windows Terminal, and both the Windows Subsystem for Linux and Windows Subsystem for Android. Arm-native versions of these apps will allow developers to run them without the performance penalty associated with translating x86 code to run on Arm devices—especially helpful given that Arm Windows devices usually don’t have much performance to spare.

I actually wouldn’t mind one of these as an actual product for regular end users. Windows on ARM needs a big push, and while I’m not sure these announcements constitute such a big push, it’s at least something.

What happened to Perl 7?

When we last heard from Perl, Perl 6 was going off on its own becoming Raku, Perl 5 was going to continue until version 5.36 which would serve as the basis for Perl NG, and Perl NG would be known as Perl 7 because Raku burned the Perl 6 namespace. No one saw the humor in “not that Perl 6, the other Perl 6”.

Anyway, the Perl Steering Committee (PSC) decided to write a blog post about the future of Perl and Perl 7.

The first PSC was elected in late 2020, and one of our first tasks was to create a plan for the future of Perl, and to put that in motion. A lot of discussion and iteration followed, but the strategy we agreed is:

1. Existing sensibly-written Perl 5 code should continue to run under future releases of Perl. Sometimes this won’t be possible, for example if a security bug requires a change that breaks backward compatibility.

2. We want to drive the language forwards, increasing the rate at which new features are introduced. This resulted in the introduction of the RFC process, which anyone can use to propose language changes.

3. We want to make it easy for people to use these new features, and want to do what we can to encourage their adoption.

[…]

At some point in the future, the PSC may decide that the set of features, taken together, represent a big enough step forward to justify a new baseline for Perl. If that happens, then the version will be bumped to 7.0.

So basically, nothing is going to change. Perl 5 will continue on into infinity adding features as it has been doing.

Broadcom, VMware agree to $61b merger

The Register reports:

Broadcom has confirmed it intends to acquire VMware in a deal that looks set to be worth $61 billion, if it goes ahead: the agreement provides for a “go-shop” provision under which the virtualization giant may solicit alternative offers.

That “go-shop” provision:

However, the merger agreement has a “go-shop” provision under which VMware may seek alternative offers from other interested parties and potentially enter negotiations with them during the next 40 days.

VMware has a backup, maybe?

Broadcom is a weird one to buy VMware, but it makes some sort of sense. Broadcom make chips which are widely used, specifically networking equipment, and baking VMware support into their chips is probably the value proposition, or vice versa. Let’s see what happens. I would think another company (Microsoft, IBM, or Cisco?) would be interested in VMware enough to top the $61 billion Broadcom has on the table.

A kernel hacker meets Fuchsia OS

Alexander Popov, Linux kernel developer and security researcher, takes a very detailed look at Fuchsia and its kernel.

Fuchsia is a general-purpose open-source operating system created by Google. It is based on the Zircon microkernel written in C++ and is currently under active development. The developers say that Fuchsia is designed with a focus on security, updatability, and performance. As a Linux kernel hacker, I decided to take a look at Fuchsia OS and assess it from the attacker’s point of view. This article describes my experiments.

This is a long, detailed account of his findings, much of which goes over my head – but probably not over the heads of many of you.

Budgie team details plans for Budgie 10, 11

Joshua Strobl, the lead developer of Budgie, the (currently) Gtk+-based desktop, posted a lengthy article about the state of the project and the future it’s embarking on. Budgie had been in a feature-freeze and maintenance mode for a long time, but now that Strobl is no longer involved with the Linux distribution Solus, Budgie has become truly independent, and development can pick up again.

The article touches upon a lot – such as the way the Budgie developers intend to lead the project, how they want to involve the community as much as they can, and similar things. They don’t want to mandate defaults or force distributions into “stock” Budgie. They intend to take this pretty far.

We have made technical decisions for Budgie 11 and beyond that focuses on a clear separation between the “data layer” that enables complex Budgie functionality, and the visual / “presentation layer”. This reduces our reliance on any one given upstream for a toolkit or related libraries, allowing us to potentially explore different models for achieving the presentation layer, and even enabling other developers to build on top of Budgie’s data layer with their own presentations.

As for actual plans for future versions – they intend to first nip and tuck Budgie 10.x, the current version, before diving fully into Budgie 11. The idea is that they want Budgie 10.x to be a solid base for distributions to work with while Budgie 11 is being developed.

When I created Buddies of Budgie, my first priority was “unlocking” Budgie 10.x so everyone from Ubuntu Budgie to GeckoLinux, myself and other independent contributors – could get it into a state we were all happy with, and that users would be even happier with. I was not happy with the state it was in and there was a lot of catching up for us to do on fixing a thousand papercuts.

Some of the major points that need to be addressed is adding full Wayland support to Budgie, since Budgie 11 is intended to be Wayland first. They also intend to remove a whole bunch of GNOME technologies they’re currently relying on. Budgie 11, meanwhile, will be a big change.

Budgie 11 will take this much further. All data-related logic, collating, and reformatting possible will be in daemon, allowing the presentation layer (panel, applets, Raven, and more) to be much simpler. We will likely be leveraging protobuf to create more structured messages that is supported in more programming languages.. Not only that but this actually minimizes the impact that the toolkit choice will actually have and will even pave the way for other developers, should they choose, to leverage the data layer of Budgie and build their own “presentations” on top of that and in the toolkit of their choice! Budgie / its libraries / window manager will be written in a mix of Rust and C – with Rust being the choice for aspects of Budgie that are more mission critical (like the window manager, which may leverage smithay).

Budgie Desktop itself will always be designed for the “desktop” metaphor.

I’m getting mild KDE vibes from this. There’s definitely room in the market for a Gtk+ desktop that embraces more of the user choice first mentality of KDE, especially now that GNOME has forced that ship to sail.

It’s fascinating to read all of these musings, and it provides a great insight into a project trying to reinvigorate itself.

The nightmare of getting DOOM running on PowerPC AIX

Can’t get enough of porting old software? How about getting Doom ported to and running on an old version of AIX for PowerPC?

You know what ever computer needs? DOOM. Do you know what I couldn’t find? DOOM for the IBM RS/6000, but that’s not surprising. These machines were never meant for gaming, but that’s doesn’t mean you can’t do it. If you like pain anyway.

[…]

In this extra long NCommander special, we’re going to explore AIX, discuss the RS/6000 Model 150 43p I’m running it on. Throughout this process, I’d explore the trouble in getting bash to build, getting neofetch to work, then the battle for high colors, SDL, and more.

This video is over an hour long, but incredibly detailed and lovingly obscure.

Lotus 1-2-3 ported to Linux

I’ll cut to the chase; through a combination of unlikely discoveries, crazy hacks and the 90s BBS warez scene I’ve been able to port Lotus 1-2-3 natively to Linux – an operating system that literally didn’t exist when 1-2-3 was released!

If you want to hear how a proprietary application could be ported to new operating systems 30 years after release, read on!

This isn’t running through an emulator or a VM – this is a real port. Amazing work.

Windows XP Delta Edition

Windows XP Delta Edition is a modification of Windows XP which aims to recreate the Windows XP Beta 2 aesthetic and bring back lost features, functions, and programs from previous versions of Windows, along with prerelease versions of Windows XP.

I like these community releases for Windows XP. While I never really liked XP when it was current, and while you really shouldn’t be using XP in any serious capacity today, it can be a ton of fun to try and see how far you can get in the modern world with XP on old hardware or in a VM.

Raptor CS: fully owner-controlled computing using OpenPOWER

Peter Czanik did an interview with Timothy Pearson of Raptor Engineering, the company behind POWER9 systems like the Talos II and Blackbird, which I reviewed last year. There’s some good stuff in there, most importantly the reasoning as to why there isn’t any POWER10 hardware from Raptor yet.

At this time we do not have plans to create a POWER10 system. The reasoning behind this is that somehow, during the COVID19 shutdowns and subsequent Global Foundries issues, IBM ended up placing two binary blobs into the POWER10 system. One is loaded onto the Microsemi OMI to DDR4 memory bridge chip, and the other is loaded into what appears to be a Synopsis IP block located on the POWER10 die itself. Combined, they mean that all data flowing into and out of the POWER10 cores over any kind of high speed interface is subject to inspection and/or modfication by a binary firmware component that is completely unauditable – basically a worst-case scenario that is strangely reminiscent of the Intel Management Engine / AMD Platorm Security Processor (both have a similar level of access to all data on the system, and both are required to use the processor). Our general position is that if IBM considered these components potentially unstable enough to require future firmware updates, the firmware must be open source so that entities and owners outside of IBM can also modify those components to fit their specific needs.

Were IBM to either open source the firmware or produce a device that did not require / allow mutable firmware components in those locations, we would likely reconsider this decision.

This information isn’t new, but you had to read Twitter posts or forum messages to get at it, so it’s nice to see it all laid out like this. IBM really missed the mark here, and it’s incredibly sad we won’t be seeing any POWER10 workstations from Raptor any time soon. I do admire Raptor’s uncompromising stance here, though, since it’s rare to find a company with principles they’re willing to stand by.

And these principles matter – as the story about the problems getting Linux to run on the Rock64 showed. As Pearson puts it:

An owner-controlled device is best defined as a tool that answers only to its physical owner, i.e. its owner (and only its owner) has full control over every aspect of its operation. If something is mutable on that device, the owner must be able to make those changes to alter its operation without vendor approval or indeed any vendor involvement at all. This is in stark contrast with the standard PC model, where e.g. Intel or AMD are allowed to make changes on the device but the owner is expressly forbidden to change the device’s operation through various means (legal restrictions, lack of source code, vendor-locked cryptographic signing keys, etc.). In our opinion, such devices never really left the control of the vendor, yet somehow the owner is still legally responsible for the data stored on them – to me, this seems like a rather strange arrangement on which to build an entire modern digital economy and infrastructure.

He’s not wrong.

Apple promoting accessibility features for iOS users that anyone can take advantage of

Apple this week celebrated Global Accessibility Awareness Day by announcing new accessibility features that will be available later this year with iOS 16 and other software updates. However, while we wait for those updates, the company has been promoting accessibility tips that anyone can take advantage of.

[…]

One of the new accessibility features teased by Apple this week is called “Door Detection,” and it uses the LiDAR scanner on supported iPhone and iPad models to help users understand how far away they are from a door. It can also read signs and symbols around the door.

For Apple Watch users, a new option will mirror the watch’s screen on the iPhone so that people with physical and motor disabilities can interact with features such as ECG, Blood Oxygen, and Heart Rate. Also, live captions are finally coming to FaceTime on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Apple’s dedication to accessibility is second to none in the operating system market, and that’s the reason virtually every single visually impaired person I’ve ever seen uses an iPhone. This certainly isn’t something that makes them tons of money, and it also isn’t something that’s easy to design and implement, so hats off to Apple for placing accessibility high on the list.

Making sure everyone – regardless of ability – can use modern devices should be the norm, not the exception.

EU planning to force Apple to give developers access to all hardware and software features

The European Union is pressing ahead with legislation to heavily regulate companies like Apple, setting plans to force “gatekeepers” to open up access to hardware and software, and even set up an internal department to meet new rules, according to an endorsed agreement from the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee.

[…]

The DMA could force Apple to make major changes to the App Store, Messages, FaceTime, third-party browsers, and Siri in Europe. For example, it could be forced to allow users to install third-party app stores and sideload apps, give developers the ability to closely interoperate with Apple’s own services and promote their offers outside the ‌App Store‌ and use third-party payment systems, and access data gathered by Apple.

The DMA is turning out much better than I could’ve ever hoped for, and contains more strict regulations than I ever imagined the European Union would go for. The DMA would significantly upset the market, and give smaller, competing companies many more legs to stand on – and its effects will find its way to other parts of the world, too.

This is long overdue, and I’m here for it. This is a tiny speck of good news in the hellstorm that has been the recent few years.

Developer pulls plug on popular open source Android email client FairEmail

And another great application falls victim to Google’s absolute disdain for Android developers. Marcel Bokhorst has announced that after yet another brick wall interaction with Google, he is ending development of his popular (in the right circles) open source email client FairEmail.

All my projects have been terminated after Google falsely flagged FairEmail as spyware without a reasonable opportunity to appeal. There will be no further development and no more support.

On XDA, he gives more background.

According to Google FairEmail is spyware because it uploads the contact list. My guess is this is because of the usage of favicons, which will use the domain name of email addresses to fetch info. This feature has been removed from the Play store version now.

Google has been violating EU regulation 2019/1150 on multiple occasions now by not being transparent about what exactly the problem is, but what can I do? Complain via the EU, wait five years for action while the app is being removed from the Play store?

FairEmail obviously isn’t as popular as the Gmail application or Outlook, but it does have more than 500.000 installs on Google Play (it’s als available on F-Droid), and if you care about open source and privacy, there’s very few other places to go for email on Android (whether Google-less or not). It’s incredibly full-featured and was regularly updated.

It’s sad to see rare applications like this fall victim to Google’s inscrutable bureaucracy, but I fully understand Bokhorst throwing in the towel.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9.0 released

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9.0 is now officially available to Red Hat customers as stable, building off the RHEL9 beta available since the end of last year. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 ships with a wealth of updated software components and derived from CentOS Stream. On the versioning front, RHEL9 has GCC 11 as the default system compiler, Python 3.9, RPM 4.16, PHP 8.0, updated LLVM / Rust / Go compilers, a plethora of optimizations, OpenSSL 3, Ruby 3.0, and much more to enjoy with this major release for enterprise Linux users. Linux 5.14 is the kernel in use by RHEL 9.0 albeit with various kernel back-ports.

There will be several community alternatives based on RHEL 9.0 soon enough, too, so if you want to run something RHEL like without all the corporate support, there’s enough options, too.

My unholy battle with a Rock64

I’ve got this rock64, which is an aarch64 board comparable to a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ with 4 gigs of ram. For years I’ve wanted to put a distribution on here that doesn’t have a premade image available, mainly because out of all the options on that page I don’t actually like any of them. Well, except NetBSD, but NetBSD doesn’t have GPU drivers for it. Problem is, everything I do want to use provides rootfs tarballs and tells you to figure it out. To do that I’ve got to get a Linux kernel, track down the device trees so it knows what hardware it has, and then wrangle u-boot into actually booting the whole thing. I figured that would be the hard part; little did I know the depths that Single Board Computer Hell would reach.

Unlike x86, ARM is far, far from a standardised platform. The end result of this is that unless you can find tailor-made images specific for your particular ARM board, you’re gonna have to do a lot of manual labour to install an operating system that should work.

Restoring a Tadpole SPARCbook 3

Tadpole Technology was a small British computer company formed in 1983 and originally based out of Cambridge, who amongst other things manufactured VMEbus boards for industrial applications, along with military spec, small server and laptop computers. During the 1990s and perhaps most famously, Tadpole produced a range of high-end laptops that were based on the SPARC, PowerPC and Alpha RISC architectures, running Solaris, AIX and OpenVMS respectively.

A previous series of articles followed the restoration of a SPARCstation IPX, noting how Sun UNIX workstations were a much-coveted object of geek desire in the early 1990s. However, Tadpole laptops which boasted a RISC processor were a great deal rarer than such workstations, with an almost legendary status and you were lucky if you even got to see one in the flesh.

In this series of posts, we’ll take a look at restoring a third-generation Tadpole SPARCbook, which was introduced in 1994 at a starting cost of $10,950 — which with inflation would make the price tag equivalent to almost $20,000 or £15,000 in today’s money!

SPARC hardware in general has a special place in my heart, but the Tadpole SPARC laptops are in a whole league of their own – mythical beasts I know exist, but which are incredibly rare, and even more stupidly expensive when they come up for sale than even regular SPARC hardware.

I’d not give up my firstborn for one, but we can talk about a kidney. Or two.

The very weird Hewlett Packard FreeDOS option

In this installment: some strange things I discovered when purchasing a FreeDOS laptop from Hewlett Packard. I suspect that the audience for this will be somewhat limited but I had fun exploring this. Perhaps you, dear reader, will find a chuckle in here too.

Some background: I recently purchased a HP ZBook 17.8 G8 as I run Fedora Linux I decided to have a little fun with the OS selection and picked the FreeDOS option (Other options include Ubuntu, and various flavors of Windows 11).

I can guarantee you this will be a lot weirder than you think.

Fedora 36 released

Fedora 36 is releasing this morning as what is yet another release in recent times of being a very robust and bleeding-edge yet stable and reliable Linux distribution. I’ve already been running Fedora Workstation 36 and Fedora Server 36 snapshots on various systems in my benchmarking lab and this release has proven to be quite solid while adding new features and polish on top of the excellent Fedora 35.

I have no reservations about stating that Fedora is by far the best desktop Linux distribution you can get today (assuming you prefer GNOME, that is). It’s polished to an insane degree, not afraid to both develop and implement new technologies that bring the Linux desktop forward – kicking and screaming, lots of kicking and screaming – and sports excellent community support through things like RPM Fusion.

Linux Mint if you prefer less bleeding edge, Fedora if you want the best the Linux desktop has to offer.

Google releases Android 13 beta 2

At its Google I/O event on Wednesday, Google released the second beta of Android 13. The search giant highlighted several new aspects to Android 13 including better privacy controls that help users to limit what data apps have access to, an improved Material You theme system that works across more apps, a new Settings & Privacy page that can help you boost your security, swanky music controls that adjust their look based on the music you’re listening to, and the ability to change the language of each app – something that music be quite handy if you are bilingual and prefer certain apps in a particular language.

You can really tell we’ve hit a fairly stable feature ceiling for mobile operating systems. New releases don’t really rock the boat anymore, and there’s rarely any major, tent pole features that you’ll miss out on.

Still, updates are updates, and they come with more than just new features – security fixes are reason enough phone makers should be forced to support phones with full Android version updates for at least five years, preferably longer.

The Apple GPU and the impossible bug

In late 2020, Apple debuted the M1 with Apple’s GPU architecture, AGX, rumoured to be derived from Imagination’s PowerVR series. Since then, we’ve been reverse-engineering AGX and building open source graphics drivers. Last January, I rendered a triangle with my own code, but there has since been a heinous bug lurking:

The driver fails to render large amounts of geometry.

Spinning a cube is fine, low polygon geometry is okay, but detailed models won’t render. Instead, the GPU renders only part of the model and then faults.

A very deep dive into the cause and fix for this bug, and on top of that, some sleuthing to figure out where it comes from. A very fun and interesting read.