Google to stop using your web browsing behaviour for targeted ads

Huge news from Google, who announced today that they are going to stop using your web browsing behaviour to display targeted advertisements.

It’s difficult to conceive of the internet we know today — with information on every topic, in every language, at the fingertips of billions of people — without advertising as its economic foundation. But as our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies. This has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center. If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web.  

That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. Even so, we continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.

This is a big step that will have massive consequences for the advertisement industry as a whole, but at the same time, companies do not just give up on revenue streams without having alternatives ready. My hunch would be that Google has become so big and collects data from so many other sources, that it simply doesn’t need your web browsing behaviour and third-party cookies to sell targeted ads effectively.

Arizona advances bill forcing Apple and Google to allow alternative payment options

The Arizona House of Representatives just passed landmark app store legislation in a 31-29 vote on Wednesday that could have far-reaching consequences for Apple and Google and their respective mobile operating systems.

The legislation, a sweeping amendment to Arizona’s existing HB2005, prevents app store operators from forcing a developer based in the state to use a preferred payment system, putting up a significant roadblock to Apple and Google’s ability to collect commissions on in-app purchases and app sales. It will now head to the state senate, where it must pass before its sent to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

A lot of bribes are going to flow from Apple and Google to Arizona, since if a law like this passes, it could have devastating consequences for these two companies. Obviously, I hope it passes, but I have my doubts local Arizona politicians will be able to withstand those juicy, juicy bribes.

Review: Blackbird Secure Desktop – a fully open source modern POWER9 workstation without any proprietary code

There’s a spectrum of openness when it comes to computers. Most people hover somewhere between fully closed – proprietary hardware, proprietary operating system – and partly open – proprietary hardware, open source operating system. Even if you run Linux on your AMD or Intel machine, you’re running it on top of a veritable spider’s web of proprietary firmware for networking, graphics, the IME, WiFi, BlueTooth, USB, and more. Even if you opt for something like a System76 machine, which has open firmware as a BIOS replacement and to cover some functions like keyboard lighting, you’re still running lots of closed firmware blobs for all kinds of components. It’s virtually impossible to free yourself from this web.

Virtually impossible, yes, but not entirely impossible. There are options out there to run a machine that is entirely open source, from firmware all the way up to the applications you run. Sure, I can almost hear you think, but it’s going to be some outdated, slow machine that requires tons of tinkering and deep knowledge, out of reach of normal users or people who just want to buy a computer, take it out of the box, and get going.

What if I told you there is a line of modern workstations, with all the modern amenities we’ve come to expect, that is entirely open? The instruction set, the firmware for the various components, the boot environment, the operating system, and the applications? No firmware blobs, no closed code hiding in various corners, yet modern performance, modern features, and a full, modern operating system?

Full disclosure: Raptor Computing Systems sent us the workstation as a loan, and it will be returned to them. They did not read this review before publication, and placed zero restrictions on anything I could write about.

Now you’re playing with POWER

Most people’s knowledge and experiences with the Power ISA begins and ends with Apple. The company used Power-based processors from 1994 until 2006, when it switched to using processors from Intel and the x86 ISA. Aside from Apple, there are two other major cornerstones of the Power ISA that most people are familiar with. First, game consoles. The GameCube, Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 all used PowerPC-based processors, and were all widely successful. Second, various embedded systems use Power processors as well.

Aside from Apple, game consoles, and embedded systems, IBM has been developing and using processors based on the Power ISA for a long time now. IBM released the first Power processor in 1990, the POWER1, for its servers and supercomputers. They’ve steadily kept developing their line of processors for decades, and they are currently in the process of rolling out POWER10, which should be available later this year.

Other Power ISA processors you may have heard of, such as the PowerPC G4 or G5 or the various gaming console processors, do not necessarily correspond to IBM’s own POWERx generations of processors, but are implementations of the same ISA. The nomenclature of the Power ISA has changed quite a bit over time, and companies like Apple and Sony using their own marketing names to advertise the processors they were using certainly didn’t help. To this day, PowerPC is often used as the name of the entire ISA, which is incorrect. The proper name for the ISA today is the Power ISA, but the confusion is understandable.

The Power ISA, and related technologies, have been made freely available by IBM for anyone to use, and the specifications and reference implementations are open source, overseen by the OpenPOWER Foundation. The goal of the OpenPOWER Foundation is to enable the various partners involved in making Power hardware, like IBM, NXP, and others, to work together and promote the use and further development of the open Power ISA. In 2019, the OpenPOWER Foundation became part of the Linux Foundation.

With Apple no longer making any Power-based computers, and with game consoles all having made the transition to x86, you may be left wondering how, exactly, you can get your hands on this fully open hardware. And, even if you could, how exotic and quirky is this hardware going to be? Is this another case of buying discard IBM POWER servers and turning them into very loud workstations with tape and glue, or something unrealistic and outdated no sane person would use?

Thank god, no.

Luckily for us, one company sells mainboards, POWER9 processors, and fully assembled POWER workstations: Raptor Computing Systems. Last year, they sent me their Blackbird Secure Desktop, and after many, many shipping problems caused by UPS losing packages and the effects of COVID-19, I can now finally tell you what it’s like to use this truly fully open source computer.

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Specifications

The Blackbird Secure Desktop is built around Raptor’s Blackbird micro-ATX motherboard. This motherboard has a Sforza CPU socket, 2 DDR4 RAM slots compatible with EEC registered memory with a maximum combined capacity of 256GB, 2 PCIe 4.0 slots (16x and 8x), 2 gigabit Ethernet ports, another Ethernet port used for the BMC (OpenBMC – more on that later), 4 SATA ports (6Gb/s), and more than enough USB options (4 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0), and two RS-232 ports (one external, one internal using a header). On top of that, it has a CMedia 5.1 audio chip and associated jacks, an HDMI port driven by the on-board ASpeed graphics chip, as well as the ASpeed BMC.

The board also comes with amenities we’ve come to expect from modern motherboards, like fan headers, an internal LED panel that displays the status of the motherboard, standard front panel connectors, a header for external audio, and so on. You also get a number of more exotic features, such as various headers to control the BMC, headers to update the open source firmware packages on the board, a FlexVer connector, and more. The only modern amenity that’s really missing from this board is an M.2 slot, which is something Raptor should really add to future revisions or new boards.

In what will be a running theme in this review, for an exotic non-x86 ISA, the Blackbird motherboard is decidedly… Normal. Anyone who knows their way around a regular x86 motherboard won’t be confused by the Blackbird. Nor the unique ISA, nor the fact that the entire board is free from binary blobs makes it any harder to use than any other motherboard. Sure, the processor socket and the cooler mounting mechanism is a bit different, but even within x86 there are various different socket types and mounting mechanisms, so this is just another one to add to the list.

My preassembled machine came equipped with the base processor option – an IBM POWER9 processor with 4 cores and 16 threads, running at a base clock speed of 3.2Ghz, with a turbo frequency of 3.80Ghz. Unlike x86 cores, POWER9 uses four-way multithreading (or eight-way for the more exotic chips). This particular processor also boasts 48 PCIe lanes. You can also configure the Blackbird Secure Desktop with an 8-core variant, but higher core counts will most likely lead to instability and downclocking due power delivery constraints. If you want more cores, you’ll have to step up to the single-socket Talos II Lite board or the dual-socket Talos II board.

My machine further came equipped with 64GB of registered ECC DDR4 RAM (running at 2666MHz) and an AMD Radeon Pro WX4100 GPU. To circumvent the lack of an on-board M.2 slot, my machine came configured with a PCIe M.2 adapter carrying a Samsung 960 EVO M.2 SSD at 500GB. All this hardware is housed in a relatively small generic Antec desktop-style micro-ATX case (with a stand for orienting the case vertically), and is powered by a standard 300W TFX power supply.

Performance is excellent, and benchmarks show that POWER9 processors can hold their own against competing x86 processors from Intel and AMD. Not once did I feel this machine was lacking in power, performance, or smoothness.

Of note here is that if you buy the Blackbird motherboard and CPU separately and build your own machine from there, you can use any regular PC case you want, as long as it can fit a micro-ATX motherboard. The same obviously applies to the power supply – if it’s ATX, you’re good to go. And while the board supports registered ECC memory, you can opt for cheaper, regular memory too. I’m guessing quite a few OSNews readers have a random case, PSU, and some DDR4 memory lying around, so if you’re interested in building a POWER9 machine, you won’t necessarily have to buy a lot of specialised, expensive equipment.

There’s an elephant in my room

One aspect where hardware like this decidedly differs from generic x86 is pricing. Exotic, niche hardware like this that eschews the large PC part makers is not cheap, and the Blackbird is no exception. Time to rip off the band-aid: a base configuration of the Blackbird Secure Desktop, with the 4-core/16-thread CPU, 8GB of EEC registered RAM, no dedicated GPU, and a 128GB Samsung NVMe drive will set you back $3,370. My model, with the bigger SSD, dedicated GPU, and 64GB of RAM is considerably more expensive at an estimated $5000. Buying just the motherboard with the base 4-core/16-thread processor and passive 2U CPU heatsink costs $1,732.07.

There’s no going around it: that’s a lot of money. You can get a lot of x86 for that – current processor and GPU shortage not withstanding – and there’s going to be a lot of people here who would be perfectly fine with that. However, this hardware does offer the one thing other platforms simply cannot offer: complete openness. There isn’t any other platform that’s completely free and open source from top to bottom. Is that unique feature worth the price of admission?

If you’re tired of companies like Apple, Intel, Microsoft, and so on invading your privacy and taking ownership of “your” hardware, or in case you’re a journalist investigating serious corporate or government crimes – either in totalitarian dictatorships like China or in western democracies – it just might be. There’s really no other way to know for sure your hardware hasn’t been compromised.

These machines cost a lot of money, but that’s the price to pay for hardware you actually own, instead of just leas. Machines from x86 competitors don’t go beyond sort-of-but-not-really disabling the IME and some open firmware, which is obviously better than a fully locked-down machine, but nowhere near something like the Blackbird.

Are you sure this is exotic?

Taking the machine out of the box and setting it up is pretty much identical to any other computer, but the server-like architecture of the Blackbird does come with a few peculiarities that you won’t find in generic x86 hardware. Much like a server, the Blackbird has a BMC – running OpenBMC, an open source BMC firmware stack – that powers on first, the second you connect the PSU to the power outlet. It’s the BMC’s job to interface between the system-management software and platform hardware. OpenBMC is a tiny Linux distribution designed specifically for running on BMCs.

The BMC outputs to both the VGA port and serial, but most of us will use the former. Once the BMC has fully booted its Linux installation, you end up at a Petitboot menu, where you can select your preferred boot device.

Petitboot is an operating system bootloader based on Linux kexec. It can load any operating system image that supports the Linux kexec re-boot mechanism like Linux and FreeBSD. Petitboot can load images from any device that can be mounted by Linux, and can also load images from the network using the HTTP, HTTPS, NFS, SFTP, and TFTP protocols.

Petitboot might be one of my favourite features of the Blackbird. It automatically recognises any bootable medium, and can rescan for new media even once it’s already running. Think of it as a combination between a BIOS boot menu and GRUB, but easier to use than both. In Petitboot you can also check system logs, change individual boot options, exit to a shell for more control, and more.

From here on out, booting an operating system is pretty much identical to any other PC. Linux and several BSD variants are supported, with the more popular operating systems on POWER machines like these being Fedora and Void Linux. Installing these distributions is identical to installing their x86 counterparts, and the two distributions I tried, Fedora and Void, have outstanding support for POWER and work out of the box, without any additional hacks or tricks.

Actually running these distributions – I settled on Fedora myself – is almost an entirely uneventful experience. Everything just works, and other than actively searching for it, you’d be hard-pressed to find any signs you’re not running on x86. The repositories for Fedora seem fully covered, and even external projects such as RPM Fusion just work. I run Fedora 34 using Wayland, and that, too, works entirely flawlessly.

There are a few notes, however, about running Linux on POWER. first and foremost, the browser situation. Firefox is my preferred browser, but the POWER9 version is severely crippled because its JIT has not yet been ported to ppc64. This means anything more complex than basic web pages bring the browsing experience to a crawl, and using Firefox on POWER is, therefore, a very unpleasant experience. There is an effort underway to port the Firefox JIT to ppc64, but it seems it hasn’t been very active.

With Firefox being problematic on POWER9, the best browser to use is Chromium. The open source base for Google’s Chrome browser has been ported to ppc64 and works perfectly fine and without any issues, with my preferences definitely going to the Ungoogled Chromium version, so we don’t have to deal with any Google nonsense on a fully open source workstation. The installation is straightforward – add the repository and install it from there, or download the specific RPM for the latest release.

The second limitation of running Linux on POWER is one that is entirely obvious, but that I want to mention anyway. It’s an open door, but anything that is not or cannot be ported to POWER won’t run. There isn’t much of this kind of software – one of the strengths of the Linux world is the relative ease with which different architectures can be supported because of its open source nature – but it does exist.

An example of this is obviously video games. Steam, which thanks to Proton and native Linux games has turned Linux into a very capable gaming platform (I don’t run Windows at all anymore), doesn’t run on POWER, and while work on bringing Wine to POWER is underway, I doubt it will deliver usable performance for games. Interestingly enough, since Minecraft, one of the most popular games of all time, is written in Java, it runs just fine on POWER with a small modification. The latest version of Minecraft – 1.16.5 – is available for POWER.

Other than these two limitations, running Linux on the Blackbird is an uneventful experience. My biggest surprise while using Linux on POWER is just how… Pedestrian it all feels. If you’ve used Fedora or Debian or Void on x86, you’ve pretty much used them on POWER, too. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the very latest version of my Linux Twitter client of choice, Cawbird, was available in the Fedora ppc64 repositories without any issues, which you just wouldn’t expect from a non-essential app developed by a small team.

Adding a dedicated GPU

There is one other unique quirk of the Blackbird that straddles the line between software and hardware. The onboard ASpeed graphics chip isn’t exactly great – it maxes out at 1920×1080 with only usable performance – which means most people will want to add a dedicated GPU. However, adding a dedicated GPU requires loading a proprietary firmware blob, which goes against the very nature of the hardware. As such, if you are interested in a Blackbird because your use case requires 100% user-controlled, open source hardware without any proprietary code, you have no choice but to stick to the more limited ASpeed graphics or possible future fully open source graphics cards.

For people willing to make the concession and add a dedicated GPU, there’s a few steps you need to take that aren’t required on x86 hardware. The firmware required for your GPU needs to be loaded by the Linux video drivers in Petitboot, and a small area of the firmware’s flash storage – about 1.8MB – has been set aside specifically for firmware that needs to be loaded, and you need to copy the required firmware into this area.

Once you know which firmware files you need, it’s not a difficult process – especially not for people reading OSNews – but it is the only instance I’ve experienced where there is a marked difference between using Linux on regular x86 and using Linux on POWER. There’s room for making this process a little easier – maybe through a script or a tool that takes some of the guesswork and manual commands out of the equation – but making it easier to compromise the security of machines like this seems… Counterproductive.

In short, while using the onboard graphics is a must if you need to maintain the security of the machine, you at least have the option to move to a dedicated GPU for massively increased performance. Whether or not you feel comfortable doing so is a question I cannot answer. Firmware blobs like these have access to a lot of important areas of the system, so running unaudited, closed source firmware is a massive security risk.

Proceed with caution.

Some random Post-its®

I’ve noticed that quite a number of people with understanding of why Apple transitioned to Intel in 2006 have a tendency to assume the Blackbird will be an overheating power hog. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the user-reported power consumption figures illustrate. The 300W power supply my system came with has no issues powering the hardware, and while POWER does run a little hotter than x86 processors tend to do (70-90°C), this is normal for POWER and the temperature range Raptor’s engineers aim for.

I am not a big fan of the case the Blackbird comes in, since its airflow is pretty terrible. The 2U CPU cooler the Blackbird Secure Desktop comes with is a passive heatsink, connected to the PSU fan through a duct, effectively meaning the PSU fan draws air past the CPU heatsink, exhausting it out the back. However, since the front of the case is almost entirely closed off, the influx of ambient air isn’t going to be great. The upside is that the case is quite small, and easy to stow away under or next to your monitor or desk.

Raptor and I are discussing the possibility of sending me the 8-core CPU with an actively cooled 3U heatsink, so I can transplant the mainboard into a bigger, airflow-optimised case. If this goes through, you can expect a follow-up article with some benchmarks comparing the 4-core CPU to the 8-core model, as well as information about if we can get some lower temperatures – and thus, less fan noise – using a bigger case, which is valuable information for people considering buying just the mainboard. If you would like me to test some of the BSDs or a specific Linux distribution, lot me know, and I’ll see if I can write about that, too.

Note that aftermarket coolers do not exist; you can choose between Raptor’s fanless 2U cooler and the 3U cooler with a fan. While you could probably jerry-rig some Intel/AMD coolers with some redneck engineering and elbow grease, do so at entirely your own risk.

Conclusion

I’m rarely this positive in reviews, but I have to say I love the Blackbird. Having such a capable, modern workstation that is entirely open source, without any dubious, unaudited firmware blobs anywhere in the system is something I deeply appreciate. We’re in the middle of the war on general purpose computing, and it seems that every day we read the tech news, we learn of another consumer or user right that we seemingly give up without a fight to the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, and others.

The Blackbird, and its higher-end sibling the Talos II, is, as far as I know, the only fully open source alternative to the Intel and ARM machines that you lease, not buy. That you may use, not own.

That being said, the Blackbird has a number of problems, with the most obvious one being its price. The cost of admission to the front lines of this war is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s entirely unreasonable to expect someone who worries about the state of computing to just shell out this kind of money. Most people’s computing budgets – including my own, since our first kid is on the way! – simply do not have any room for $3000+ machines, and there’s nothing wrong with appreciating a machine like this without being willing to spend the money to own one.

Still, the mere fact a fully open source machine like the Blackbird exists at all is astonishing. Here we have a fully capable, easy to use and modern computer that is fully open source and free of proprietary code, that is barely distinguishable from a proprietary firmware-ridden PC or, even worse, Mac. All I can hope for is that Raptor, its customers, and its suppliers like IBM, can somehow, perhaps slowly, manage to bring the price down, making truly Free hardware accessible to more and more people.

Also a laptop would be nice but you know, baby steps!

The Blackbird Secure Desktop is an excellent piece of hardware, and a machine the current abysmal state of the computing landscape desperately needs.

Users are losing out against Big Sur’s sealed System

Big Sur’s sealed System volume seemed like a good idea. Although the read-only version in Catalina may look impregnable, guaranteeing integrity using a Merkle Tree of hashes, then locking the whole lot in a snapshot, looks even more robust. Like other good engineering ideas, though, it also needs thinking through thoroughly.

It’s locked down for your own safety, though. Giving up freedom in exchange for safety never hurt anytone, right?

Weird architectures weren’t supported to begin with

This is the heart of the conflict: Rust (and many other modern, safe languages) use LLVM for its relative simplicity, but LLVM does not support either native or cross-compilation to many less popular (read: niche) architectures. Package managers are increasingly finding that one of their oldest assumptions can be easily violated, and they’re not happy about that.

But here’s the problem: it’s a bad assumption. The fact that it’s the default represents an unmitigated security, reliability, and reproducibility disaster.

I’m sure this will go down well.

Windows 10 update to hide 3D Objects folder in File Explorer

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t allow you to remove 3D Objects and other folders from File Explorer using Control Panel or Settings. If you want to remove these folders, you need to use Registry editor and delete the entry.

With the Sun Valley update, Microsoft is looking to reduce the clutter in File Explorer and they plan to hide the 3D Objects folder by default. After the update, this useless folder will no longer be shown under ‘This PC’ unless you right-click and select the “Show all folders” option on the navigation pane.

I know this is a small change, and I know it’s insignificant, but these unremovable garbage folders always feel like such a slap in the face. It’s an annoying reminder that when you use Windows, you don’t really own your computer.

The Framework Laptop: repairable, upgradeable, sustainable

At Framework, we believe the time has come for consumer electronics products that are designed to last. Founded in San Francisco in 2019, our mission is to empower you with great products you can easily customize, upgrade, and repair, increasing longevity and reducing e-waste in the process.

Today, we are excited to unveil our first product: the Framework Laptop, a thin, lightweight, high-performance 13.5” notebook that can be upgraded, customized, and repaired in ways that no other notebook can.

This product – be sure to read the description and features – seems too good to be true. I hope they can keep their promises, because this is exactly what a lot of people are looking for.

A retrospective look at Mac OS X Snow Leopard

But back to my ‘gut-reply’, I wanted to be certain that my fond memories of Snow Leopard weren’t just nostalgia. While I am confident when I say that Snow Leopard is the most stable version of Mac OS, I wanted to make sure its user interface was really the good user interface and experience I was remembering. So, after a few frustrating attempts at creating a virtual machine on my current iMac with Mac OS High Sierra, I decided to install Snow Leopard on a USB flash drive, and boot my 2009 MacBook Pro (yes, it’s still alive & kicking) in Snow Leopard from that flash drive.

It seems to be a rather widespread conviction that it’s been downhill for macOS for years now, and I can’t say I disagree. Especially the current version looks like a touch-first operating system, but without a touchscreen. So many huge targets, lots of needless whitespace, things you have to swipe, buttons hidden until you mouse-over – it feels like Apple is trying to out-Windows 8 Windows 8.

Booting the IBM 1401: how a 1959 punch-card computer loads a program

How do you boot a computer from punch cards when the computer has no operating system and no ROM? To make things worse, this computer requires special metadata called “word marks” that can’t be represented on a card. In this blog post, I describe the interesting hardware and software techniques used in the vintage IBM 1401 computer to load software from a deck of punch cards. (Among other things, half of each card contains loader code that runs as each card is read.) I go through some IBM 1401 machine code in detail, which illustrates the strangeness of the 1401’s architecture and instruction set compared to a modern machine.

I simply cannot imagine what wizardry these newfangled computers must’ve felt like to the people of the ’50s, when computers first started to truly cement themselves in the public consciousness. Even though they’ve been around for twice as long, I find a world without cars far, far easier to imagine and grasp than a world without computers.

Re-review: System76’s Lemur Pro, now with 11th Gen Intel processors and Xe graphics

In the middle of last year I reviewed System76’s Lemur Pro, a lightweight, battery-life focused Linux laptop. I concluded that the Lemur Pro did not have any big failings, and packed a few stand-out features such as the amazing battery life and open source firmware few – if any – other laptop makers can offer. Linux user or not, the Lemur Pro was a great all-rounder that could go toe-to-toe with competing Windows laptops any day of the week.

Since the publication of that review, System76 has released a new version of the Lemur Pro, focusing entirely on upgrading the internals of the machine. The casing, the keyboard, the trackpad, the display, and so on, remain unchanged, but this time around, it comes packing with Intel’s latest 11th Gen Core i5 or i7 processor – the 1135G7 or 1165G7 – and thus with Intel Iris Xe graphics, which should prove to be a massive boost over the previous generation’s UHD graphics.

This won’t be a full review – other than the spec bump, nothing has changed regarding the rest of the Lemur Pro. Aside from possible changes mentioned here, the review of last year’s model still applies. As such, I decided to use the term “re-review”, which I think better describes this article.

Full disclosure: Raptor Computing Systems sent us the workstation as a loan, and it will be returned to them. They did not read this review before publication, and placed zero restrictions on anything I could write about.

I opted for the Core i5 model this time around, since I feel the difference between it and the i7 are relatively small, especially considering the intended use case for a lightweight ultrabook such as this. This gave me some more financial room to max out the RAM at 40GB (DDR4 at 3200Mhz) and pick the 1TB SSD (M.2 PCIe gen4). The price of this specific configuration is $1613.00.

The remainder of the specifications are identical to last year’s machine. It has the same fairly standard 1920×1080 14.1″ 60Hz panel, which won’t win any awards, but isn’t bad in any way either. Much like last year, I do wish System76 offered higher resolution and especially higher refresh rates as options, since once you go high refresh rate, you just can’t go back. At the same time, however, I know a lot of people are still using 60Hz displays, and wouldn’t care one bit about sticking to it.

The ports situation remains the same as well, so you get one USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 2 port (these names…), two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, a MicroSD slot, an HDMI port, a barrel connector for the included charger, a combined headphone/microphone jack, and that Kensington lock thing for corporate or public environments. The Type-C port can be used a DisplayPort as well, and USB-C charging is supported as well.

The stand-out feature of last year’s model makes a return here, with the 73Wh battery once again delivering astonishing battery life. I can easily go over 10 hours of normal use – some browsing, some video, some basic document work – and for this model, they’ve fixed the issue I had last year where setting the laptop to battery-saving mode would cause signficiant slowdowns in playing video. I’m sure the brand new Iris Xe graphics play a big role here, and I just leave the battery-saving mode on at all times, since I didn’t notice any downsides.

Not noticing any downsides to the battery-saving mode is definitely one of the main advantages of the move to 11th Gen Intel processors and the Iris Xe GPU, but that’s not the only benefit – the laptop gets less hot too, which is great for those of us using laptops on our, you know, laps. Kicking in an open door, overall performance is improved too, with applications opening faster, complex web pages loading faster, and less fans spinning up, too.

This being a full Intel machine also means it’s already, well, ready for Wayland, without having to resort to workarounds or hacks. Sadly, if using System76’s own Pop!_OS, you need to manually enable Wayland by commenting out WaylandEnable=false in /etc/gdm3/custom.conf/. Once you’ve done this, Wayland is an option in GDM and you can login. I’m taking Wayland compatibility into account when it comes to my purchasing decisions, and I figured I’m probably not alone in this.

I hope System76 makes Wayland easier to enable – or even the default – on its fully Intel machines soon, because it definitely improves responsiveness and performance across the board. This is hard to quantify, and people will understandably ask for proof, but on all three machines I’m currently running in Wayland – my Dell XPS 13 9370, this Lemur Pro, and a Blackbird POWER9 machine – there’s less stutter, less tearing, better video playback performance, and lower heat output when using Wayland compared to X.org.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this new Lemur Pro is a spec bump, and as such, the trackpad and keyboard are still the same. While the keyboard was already a solid one, I was less happy with the trackpad, and that remains the same here. It’s still of the diving board type, and its surface doesn’t feel nearly as nice as that of my XPS 13 – which has an excellent trackpad – or other competitors, such as the best-in-class trackpads found on Apple’s laptops. It’s not a bad trackpad, but it’s not particularly good or great either – just average.

In conclusion, this new generation of the Lemur Pro is by all accounts an excellent upgrade, with better performance, less heat output and fewer fan spin-ups – all without sacrificing the excellent battery life of its predecessor. If you have one of the earlier generations Lemur Pros with the same design, there’s probably not enough here to warrant an upgrade, but if you were on the fence last year, the spec bump definitely warrants a new, fresh look.

System76 took their already excellent all-rounder, and made it even better, without rocking the boat, without large changes in pricing, and still with System76’s unique open source firmware and coreboot which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

And that’s exactly what you want from a spec bump.

Oracle Solaris 11.4 SRU30 released

Solaris is still a thing, even though it’s now developed by a company nobody likes and seems to have lost all of the momentum among enthusiasts, so much so that I doubt anyone will even really care about this news item. Oracle released Solaris 11.4 almost three years ago, and is still updating it with monthly updates. Solaris 11.4 SRU30 is the latest one, released on 16 February.

The update consists mainly of updates from upstream packages, but there seems to be little in the way of new features or big improvements. For those, we have to most likely wait until Solaris 11.5 or 12.0, if Oracle ever makes it that far with the formerly open source operating system that they closed back up.

Understanding KDE Plasma theming system

KDE Plasma’s theming system is actually quite complex. It has many ways to be customized. It’s normal ever for expert users to not fully get how it works. I’ll try to explain how it works to the best of my knowledge.

I’m pretty sure most KDE users here are more than aware of all of this stuff, but it’s still a good and concise overview for newcomers to KDE.

The modern packager’s security nightmare

One of the most important tasks of the distribution packager is to ensure that the software shipped to our users is free of security vulnerabilities. While finding and fixing the vulnerable code is usually considered upstream’s responsibility, the packager needs to ensure that all these fixes reach the end users ASAP. With the aid of central package management and dynamic linking, the Linux distributions have pretty much perfected the deployment of security fixes. Ideally, fixing a vulnerable dependency is as simple as patching a single shared library via the distribution’s automated update system.

Of course, this works only if the package in question is actually following good security practices. Over the years, many Linux distributions (at the very least, Debian, Fedora and Gentoo) have been fighting these bad practices with some success. However, today the times have changed. Today, for every 10 packages fixed, a completely new ecosystem emerges with the bad security practices at its central point. Go, Rust and to some extent Python are just a few examples of programming languages that have integrated the bad security practices into the very fabric of their existence, and recreated the same old problems in entirely new ways.

This post explains the issue packagers run into very well – and it sure does look like these newer platforms are not very good citizens. I know this isn’t related, but this gives me the same feelings and reservations as Flatpak, Snap, and similar tools.

What’s new in the first Android 12 Developer Preview

The first Android 12 developer preview hit the streets Thursday, and we’ve played with it for a day. There’s not a lot to see in this release—at least not at first. Most of the interesting bits are hidden, and the developer community is slowly enabling them. Many changes are half-finished alpha tweaks that will look different in the final release; after all, Google says these releases are for “testing and feedback.”

This first release of Android 12 is meant to get some APIs and other changes in front of people for feedback, but it’s also designed to not spill the beans too much on what the final build of Android 12 will look like. With that in mind, many of the features in an earlier Android 12 leak seem right on the money. This public release is a sanitized build with a lot of stuff turned off, but the more we flip on hidden flags and catch hints in the documentation, the more this build looks like a solid halfway point between Android 11 and those leaked Android 12 screenshots.

Ars always has great overviews of upcoming Android releases, and this one is no exception.

OSNews Patreon update: the SunFire V245 and other planned projects

It’s time for an update on the OSNews Patreon, and the projects I’m working on as part of it.

Almost three weeks ago I wrote about the Sunfire V245 delivered to my door, ready to be turned into an entirely impractical and loud UltraSPARC workstation. Last we left off, I had just received the unit, and was waiting on a few additional parts to get going – most importantly, a USB serial cable – which were delivered shortly. Why, then, hasn’t there been another article or update, showing the big server running?

It turned out the machine wouldn’t boot properly. Together with John, the person who donated the machine to me, I’ve been trying to diagnose the problem, and after two weeks of troubleshooting, we seem to have isolated the probable cause of the problems. We think two replacement parts will address the problem, and John will be sending those over as soon as possible.

I’ve kept all the logs and information I noted down during the ongoing troubleshooting process, and rest assured, I will write a summary about our steps and processes, to give you a glimpse into diagnosing a hardy and annoying problem that seems to be a moving target, yet is probably caused by a very much fixed part of the machine.

Stay tuned!

Like what we do? Become an OSNews Patreon and support our continued work!

Moving on, I have two other Patreon projects planned. First, I accidentally ordered the wrong graphics cards for the SunFire V245 – they turned out to be incompatible, instead being designed for Sun’s AMD Opteron-based Ultra workstations. Since I’m now stuck with two identical Sun-branded NVIDIA Quadro workstation GPUs, I figured I might as well try and find a Sun Ultra 40 and see just how useful that beast of a workstation is in 2021.

Sadly, as with many pieces of more exotic hardware, they are hard to find in Europe, and affordable machines from the United States come with very hefty shipping costs. I’m hoping for some luck on the old world continent here.

Second, I intend to build a machine using nothing but parts from AliExpress. As most of you are probably aware, there’s a lively market of new Chinese-branded single and dual-socket Intel X79 and X99 motherboards on AliExpress. Countless other people on the web and YouTube have built machines around these motherboards, sporting used Xeon processors and RAM.

This has become a pretty popular and mostly reliable and trustworthy market on AliExpress, and I want to explore if it’s worth it to build such a machine for people like us here on OSNews. It’s fun, exotic, cheap, and possibly stupid, so why wouldn’t you want to see me try?

Please note that these plans are all subject to change, of course, and because they involve purchasing equipment from places like eBay and AliExpress, I cannot give any timelines or make any promises.

Thanks to all of our Patreons – 56 of them already! – for making these projects possible, and if you want to help, support OSNews and become an OSNews Patreon!

Wayland on Wine: an exciting first update

The focus of this update is to support a number of new features that are useful for applications and games, and which have also been considered potential integration pain points for the Wayland driver. These are copy/paste, drag-and-drop and support for changing the display mode.

Getting Wine properly supported on Wayland is a hugely important step in the move to Wayland, because thanks to Wine/Proton, gaming on Linux is massively viable. Having to use XWayland for games is not something I’m looking forward to.

Apple subpoenas Valve as part of its legal battle with Epic: Valve fights back

A new court filing has revealed that, as part of the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic Games, Apple subpoenaed Valve Software in November 2020, demanding it provide huge amounts of commercial data about Steam sales and operations going over multiple years.

Apple is demanding Valve – who is not a party to this lawsuit in any way, shape, or form – provide Apple with detailed data and information about, initially, every single game sold on Steam, including “names, prices, configurations and dates of every product on Steam, as well as detailed accounts of exactly how much money Steam makes and how it is all divvied-up”. Apple later scaled this down to just the top 600 games on Steam.

Valve is not having any of it, of course.

Valve’s argument goes on to explain to the court that it is not a competitor in the mobile space (this is, after all, a dispute that began with Fortnite on iOS), and makes the point that “Valve is not Epic, and Fortnite is not available on Steam.” It further says that Apple is using Valve as a shortcut to a huge amount of third party data that rightfully belongs to those third parties.

The conclusion of Valve’s argument calls for the court to throw Apple’s subpoena out. “Somehow, in a dispute over mobile apps, a maker of PC games that does not compete in the mobile market or sell ‘apps’ is being portrayed as a key figure. It’s not. The extensive and highly confidential information Apple demands about a subset of the PC games available on Steam does not show the size or parameters of the relevant market and would be massively burdensome to pull together. Apple’s demands for further production should be rejected.”

This feels weird and wrong in so many ways, so much so that it almost feels as if Apple is trying to gain insight into a massive market – PC games – that it is not a part of – yet. The amount and detailed nature of the data Apple is requesting is so bizarre and over the top, that the only logical conclusion I can draw is that Apple wants this data for potential competitive purposes, and not for legal purposes at all.

First Android 12 Developer Preview released

Today, we’re releasing the first Developer Preview of Android 12, the next version of Android, for your testing and feedback.

With each version, we’re working to make the OS smarter, easier to use, and better performing, with privacy and security at the core. In Android 12 we’re also working to give you new tools for building great experiences for users. Starting with things like compatible media transcoding, which helps your app to work with the latest video formats if you don’t already support them, and easier copy/paste of rich content into your apps, like images and videos. We’re also adding privacy protections and optimizing performance to keep your apps responsive.

As is standard practice by now, this first Developer Preview focuses mostly on under-the-hood and developer features, leaving the user-focused features for later releases.