ReactOS improves amd64 support

The latest ReactOS newsletter has been published.

Timo Kreuzer (tkreuzer) worked hard on various parts of the kernel and HAL, fixing issues here and there. Structured Exception Handling (SEH) support for the amd64 architecture was finished, various bugs around the kernel are fixed. A major issue with interrupt handling in HAL was also fixed in May, which finally allowed a semi-stable boot in a virtual environment.

There’s also work being done on support for multiple monitors, improved support for SMP, and more.

Google drops supports for Google services for Android 2.3.7 and lower

As part of our ongoing efforts to keep our users safe, Google will no longer allow sign-in on Android devices that run Android 2.3.7 or lower starting September 27, 2021. If you sign into your device after September 27, you may get username or password errors when you try to use Google products and services like Gmail, YouTube, and Maps.

Android 2.3.7 was released on 21 September, 2011. That’s ten years of support. I think that’s fair.

Google unveils Pixel 6, with Google’s own SoC

Google is announcing the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro today, though it might be better to call it a preview or a tease. Rather than releasing all the details on its new Android phones, Google is instead putting the focus on the new system on a chip (SoC) that will be inside the new Pixels. It’s called the Tensor SoC, named after the Tensor Processing Units (TPU) Google uses in its data centers.

Tensor is an SoC, not a single processor. And so while it’s fair to call it Google-designed, it’s also still unclear which components are Google-made and which are licensed from others. Two things are definitely coming from Google: a mobile TPU for AI operations and a new Titan M2 chip for security. The rest, including the CPU, GPU, and 5G modem, are all still a mystery.

Less mysterious: the phones themselves. I spent about an hour at Google’s Mountain View campus last week looking at the phone hardware and talking with Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh about Tensor. After all that, my main takeaway about the new Pixel 6 phones is simple.

Google is actually, finally trying to make a competitive flagship phone.

This looks like a really premium product, and it will most definitely have a price to match. Google finally switching over to its own SoC, after years of relying on Qualcomm, which is technically great for competition, but much as with Apple’s chips, it’s not like anyone else is really going to benefit from this. Assuming Google plans on selling this new Pixel in more than three countries, and assuming the claims about the cameras are backed up my real-world reviews, this will definitely be my next phone, since my current smartphone is ready for replacement.

And what a surprise – smartphone camera quality suddenly matters now that I have a kid.

AMD and Valve working on new Linux CPU performance scaling design

It’s no secret that the ACPI CPUFreq driver code has at times been less than ideal on recent AMD processors with delivering less than expected performance/behavior with being slow to ramp up to a higher performance state or otherwise coming up short of disabling the power management functionality outright. AMD hasn’t traditionally worked on the Linux CPU frequency scaling code as much as Intel does to their P-State scaling driver and other areas of power management at large.

[…]
AMD and Valve have been working to improve the performance/power efficiency for modern AMD platforms running on Steam Play (Proton / Wine) and have spearheaded “[The ACPI CPUFreq driver] was not very performance/power efficiency for modern AMD platforms…a new CPU performance scaling design for AMD platform which has better performance per watt scaling on such as 3D game like Horizon Zero Dawn with VKD3D-Proton on Steam.”

Valve has single-handedly made Linux a viable choice for people who play games, and with the Steam Deck on its way, their efforts are only going to ramp up. They’re doing this for their own bottom line, of course, but this is one of those cases where a corporate interest lines up perfectly with a consumer interest.

Remembering Radio Shack’s Windows competitor: Tandy DeskMate

In the 1980s, Radio Shack parent Tandy Corp. released a graphical user interface called DeskMate that shipped with its TRS-80 and Tandy personal computers. It made its PCs easier to use and competed with Windows. Let’s take a look back.

I’ve never used DeskMate – or Tandy computers in general – but there was a whole (cottage) industry of DOS graphical user interfaces and alternative Windows shells during the 3.x days, most notably Norton Desktop. If you ever have an empty weekend you want to fill up- fire up a DOS or windows 3.x virtual machine, and go to town. You can easily lose days researching this particular technological dead end.

WireGuardNT: a high-performance WireGuard implementation for the Windows kernel

After many months of work, Simon and I are pleased to announce the WireGuardNT project, a native port of WireGuard to the Windows kernel. This has been a monumental undertaking, and if you’ve noticed that I haven’t read emails in about two months, now you know why.

WireGuardNT, lower-cased as “wireguard-nt” like the other repos, began as a port of the Linux codebase, so that we could benefit from the analysis and scrutiny that that code has already received. After the initial porting efforts there succeeded, the NT codebase quickly diverged to fit well with native NTisms and NDIS (Windows networking stack) APIs. The end result is a deeply integrated and highly performant implementation of WireGuard for the NT kernel, that makes use of the full gamut of NT kernel and NDIS capabilities.

That’s an impressive porting job, and further spreads the availability of this protocol to entirely new users and settings.

IBM announces z/OS V2.5

IBM today announced IBM z/OS V2.5, the next-generation operating system for IBM Z, designed to accelerate client adoption of hybrid cloud and AI and drive application modernization projects.

I have several IBM Z mainframes running in my garage running our family’s Minecraft server. This update will surely lead to downtime, which is a major, major bummer, especially since IBM is shoving ever more ads into z/OS to get us to subscribe to IBM Music.

Linux 5.14 drops old DEC Alpha-specific binary loader used for x86 binary emulation

As a weekend blast from the past, the Linux 5.14 kernel saw some Alpha CPU architecture updates — including various fixes and the removal of an Alpha-specific binary loader for running a decades dated x86 software emulator.

While past the merge window, the Linux 5.14 code this week has dropped “binfmt_em86” from the kernel. This is an Alpha binary loader for Linux focused on running i386/i486 binaries via the EM86 emulator in user-space. This was part of the effort for allowing Intel Linux x86 binaries back in the day to run on DEC Alpha hardware.

How will I run x86 Linux binaries on my AlphaServer ES47 now? What a preposterous commit. Linux is definitely going down the drain.

Microsoft release first Windows 11 Preview build to the Beta channel

Last week Microsoft released Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 22000.100 to everyone in the Dev Channel. After no major issues were detected, Microsoft has released the same build to the more stable Beta channel. Microsoft suggests those who would like to test Windows 11 but who are not ready for the wild Dev channel ride may want to switch to the Beta channel now. Microsoft also said they will not be releasing a Dev channel build this week.

This is the first what you could call beta release of Windows 11, hinting that Microsoft is well on track to release Windows 11 later this Fall.

Android and Play Store get privacy labels for apps

Today, we’re announcing additional details for the upcoming safety section in Google Play. At Google, we know that feeling safe online comes from using products that are secure by default, private by design, and give users control over their data. This new safety section will provide developers a simple way to showcase their app’s overall safety. Developers will be able to give users deeper insight into their privacy and security practices, as well as explain the data the app may collect and why — all before users install the app.

Ultimately, all Google Play store apps will be required to share information in the safety section. We want to give developers plenty of time to adapt to these changes, so we’re sharing more information about the data type definitions, user journey, and policy requirements of this new feature.

This basically means Android and the Play Store are getting the same kind of privacy labels as Apple introduced in iOS and the App Store. This is competition at work, and it’s great that both platforms will soon offer this feature.

Two Googlers offer a tour and coding demo of Fuchsia OS

Despite having officially launched earlier this year, there’s still quite a bit of mystery around Google’s next operating system, Fuchsia. To help explain the most important details, two Googlers have shared a video tour and Q&A with much of what you might want to know about Fuchsia OS.

This is an hour-long deep dive into Fuchsia, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. If you ever wanted to know anything about the inner workings of Google’s new operating system that seems bound to replace everything from Android to Chrome OS, this is your chance.

Emulating the IBM PC on an ESP32

The IBM PC spawned the basic architecture that grew into the dominant Wintel platform we know today. Once heavy, cumbersome and power thirsty, it’s a machine that you can now emulate on a single board with a cheap commodity microcontroller. That’s thanks to work from [Fabrizio Di Vittorio], who has shared a how-to on Youtube. 

The full playlist is quite something to watch, showing off a huge number of old-school PC applications and games running on the platform. There’s QBASIC, FreeDOS, Windows 3.0, and yes, of course, Flight Simulator. The latter game was actually considered somewhat of a de facto standard for PC compatibility in the 1980s, so the fact that the ESP32 can run it with [Fabrizio’s] code suggests he’s done well.

This is excellent work, and while there’s tons of better ways to emulate an old IBM PC, they’re not as cool as running it on a cheap microcontroller.

Framework’s modular, repairable laptop out in the wild

Remember Framework, the company building a repairable, modular laptop? The first reviews are in, and it seems they’re quite positive – people are wondering why none of the other big OEMs are capable of making a thin, light, and sturdy laptop with this amount of upgradeability and repairability. Linus from Linus Tech Tips made a long, detailed video about the laptop as well, and was so impressed he bought one right away.

I have to say – this laptop has me very, very intrigued. It hits all the right buttons, with the only major uncertainty being just how long a relatively small company like this can stay afloat, to ensure a steady stream of future upgrades. It seems anyone can make new modules and new parts for this laptop, though, so hopefully a community of makers springs up around it as well.

In any event, I’m hoping to get my hands on a review unit, because we really need to know how well Linux runs on this machine.

Haiku R1/Beta3 released

Poetry is in motion. The Haiku Project, its developers and team members announced the Haiku operating system released its third beta release, version R1/Beta3, July 25th, 2021. Version R1B3 continues the trend of more frequent releases to provide users and developers with an up to date and stable platform to work on.

This release combines the best of Haiku’s history as a spiritual successor of BeOS and the hard work of a passionate community. It provides several new features and performance improvements that make Haiku even better.

[…]

WebKit, the backend of the bundled web browser developed by the Haiku team, WebPositive, received multiple major improvements. This provides a good base for further improvements as well as an improved browsing and website rendering experience in WebPositive, which developers will continue to focus on for the next release, Beta 4 and as Haiku nears its first initial release, R1.

Going from beta 2 to beta 3 is a giant leap if you haven’t been keeping up. Haiku is much farther along than people think, with the biggest drawback being, as always, that hardware support is going to be a mixed bag. Haiku is still every bit as clean, fast, and enticing as the original BeOS was over two decades ago, and I’ve scored two junkyard office PCs to see if I can get a proper Haiku box running.

Intel’s process roadmap to 2025: with 4nm, 3nm, 20A and 18A?!

In today’s Intel Accelerated event, the company is driving a stake into the ground regarding where it wants to be by 2025. CEO Pat Gelsinger earlier this year stated that Intel would be returning to product leadership in 2025, but hasn’t yet explained how this is coming about – that is until today, where Intel has disclosed its roadmap for its next five generations of process node technology leading to 2025. Intel believes it can follow an aggressive strategy to match and pass its foundry rivals, while at the same time developing new packaging offerings and starting a foundry business for external customers. On top of all this, Intel has renamed its process nodes.

Counting Intel out because they’re facing some really tough years is not very smart. I obviously have no idea when they’ll be on top again, but this industry has proven to have its ups and downs for the two major players, and I have little doubt the roles will become reversed again over time.

Loongson 3A5000 benchmarks for these new Chinese CPUs built on the LoongArch ISA

While Loongson has been known for their MIPS-based Loongson chips that are open-source friendly and have long been based on MIPS, with MIPS now being a dead-end, the Chinese company has begun producing chips using its own “LoongArch” ISA. The first Loongson 3A5000 series hardware was just announced and thanks to the company apparently using the Phoronix Test Suite and OpenBenchmarking.org we have some initial numbers.

Announced this week was the Loongson 3A5000 as their first LoongArch ISA chip that is quad-core with clock speeds up to 2.3~2.5GHz. Loongson 3A5000 offers a reported 50% performance boost over their prior MIPS-based chips while consuming less power and now also supporting DDR4-3200 memory. The Loongson 3A5000 series is intended for domestic Chinese PCs without relying on foreign IP and there is also the 3A5000LL processors intended for servers.

Performance isn’t even remotely interesting – for now. The Loongson processors will improve by leaps and bounds over the coming years, if only because it will have the backing of the regime. I hope some enterprising people import these to the west, because I’d love to see them in action. Nothing in technology excites me more than odd architectures.

Google will update very few devices to Wear OS 3

Google has provided a few more details about the upcoming release of Wear OS 3, which combines Samsung’s Tizen with Google’s Wear OS. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, pretty much no existing Wear OS devices will be updated to Wear OS 3.

Wear OS devices that will be eligible for upgrade include Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE, TicWatch E3 and follow on TicWatch devices, as well as Fossil Group’s new generation of devices launching later this year.

It would seem existing devices simply aren’t powerful enough, so the four existing Wear OS users – I’m one of them – are shit out of luck.

Google messed up all those Chromebooks yesterday because of a single typo

Google can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to Chrome OS 91. First we saw many users reporting their devices using an egregious amount of CPU after upgrading to 91.0.4472.147. While Google pulled the update shortly thereafter and rolled everyone back to 91.0.4472.114, that managed to lock out Linux apps. Now we’re seeing the arrival of 91.0.4772.165, and this update introduces an awful bug that’s breaking Chromebooks left and right.

[…]

So what happened? Thanks to the work of an eagle-eyed user on Reddit, we now know that a single typo appears responsible for locking so many users out of their Chromebooks. By looking at the diff in this file, we can see that Google forgot to add a second “&” to the conditional statement, preventing Chrome OS from decrypting your login information (required to log you in).

This kind of sloppiness is what you get in an industry where there really aren’t any consequences to speak of for screwing things up. It’s not like software development is a real industry with strict product safety laws or anything.

California sues Activision Blizzard over a culture of ‘constant sexual harassment’

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) says that renowned game publishing studio Blizzard Entertainment, and its owner Activision Blizzard, have created a culture of “constant sexual harassment” and gender-based discrimination, in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday that claims top executives were aware and/or involved. And in the hours since the suit was revealed, numerous women have already stepped forward to corroborate the allegations.

The details are so disturbing that we’re going to start with a trigger warning right now. The idea that male employees held “cube crawls” is one of the tamer allegations in the lawsuit.

This is by far the worst case of structural sexual abuse at a gaming company to date, and you really need to the read the full complaint to understand just how criminal the behaviour of male Activision Blizzard employees and managers has been, but some of these examples should give you a good idea. It even led to the suicide of one of the female employees at the company.

The abuse was so widespread, so pervasive, so depraved, and so institutionalised, that in my view, we’re dealing with a criminal organisation that ought to be shut down and banned, much like any other criminal organisation. The fact this is a company (or a religious institution, for that matter) should be of no consequence.

The complain itself is the result not of a single employee or one particular case, but of a two year investigation by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Plasma Mobile 21.07 released

Plasma Mobile 21.07 has been released, with a ton of improvements and fixes. The shell is now more responsive, by improving performance of the panel. On top of that, there’s countless fixes and improvements in the various applications, such as the podcasts application, the dialer, the SMS app, and more.