Mozilla has defeated Microsoft’s default browser protections in Windows

In version 91 of Firefox, released on August 10th, Mozilla has reverse engineered the way Microsoft sets Edge as default in Windows 10, and enabled Firefox to quickly make itself the default. Before this change, Firefox users would be sent to the Settings part of Windows 10 to then have to select Firefox as a default browser and ignore Microsoft’s plea to keep Edge.

Mozilla’s reverse engineering means you can now set Firefox as the default from within the browser, and it does all the work in the background with no additional prompts. This circumvents Microsoft’s anti-hijacking protections that the company built into Windows 10 to ensure malware couldn’t hijack default apps. Microsoft tells us this is not supported in Windows.

Sadly, this does not work on Windows 11, where Microsoft is now forcing users to change the default handler for every individual file type a browser might use.

South Korea fines Google, allows Android forks

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday Google’s contract terms with device makers amounted to an abuse of its dominant market position that restricted competition in the mobile OS market.

[…]

Under the AFA, manufacturers could not equip their handsets with modified versions of Android, known as “Android forks”. That has helped Google cement its market dominance in the mobile OS market, the KFTC said.

Under the ruling, Google is banned from forcing device makers to sign AFA contracts, allowing manufacturers to adopt modified versions of Android OS on their devices.

Good. This particular kind of paper restrictions need to die in a fire.

PC DOS 1.1 from scratch

A number of years ago, the Computer History Museum together with Microsoft released the source code for MS-DOS 1.25 (very close to PC DOS 1.1) and MS-DOS 2.11. I never did anything with it beyond glancing at the code, in no small part because the release was rather poorly organized.

[…]

The obvious gaping hole is the lack of any source code for IBMBIO.COM. I do not know exactly what arrangement IBM and Microsoft had at the time, but in the days of DOS 1.x and 2.x OEMs did not get the source code for IBMBIO.COM/IO.SYS suitable for PC compatibles.

I toyed with the idea of writing my own IBMBIO.COM replacement, but eventually gave up because it’s not a totally trivial piece of code and I had no real documentation to work with (until much later). The MSDOS.ASM source code obviously uses the IBMBIO interface, but makes no attempt to document it. The provided IO.ASM source is quite useful, but SCP’s hardware was different enough from the IBM PC that it is of limited utility.

So, disassembler it was, and I produced reconstructed source code for PC DOS 1.1 IBMBIO.COM. Actually assembling it turned out to be a bit of an adventure; more on that below.

More early DOS shenanigans to brighten your day.

Major win for Epic Games: Apple has 90 days to open up app store payments

On Friday, the Northern California judge handling the closely watched Epic Games v. Apple court case turned in a ruling that, in many ways, works out in Apple’s favor—but with one massive, App Store-changing exception.

The ruling from US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers includes a single-page permanent injunction demanding that Apple open up payment options for any software sellers on the App Store. In other words, Epic Games’ effort to add Epic-specific payment links inside the free-to-play game Fortnite, and thus duck out of paying Apple’s 30 percent fee on in-app transactions, can now happen.

This is a massive blow to Apple’s money printing machine, since it means both applications as well as gambling apps (or “games” as Apple refers to them) can now circumvent Apple’s 30% protection racket. Since the vast majority of App Store revenue – and thus, the vast majority of Apple’s services revenue – comes from exploitative gambling apps, this will have a major impact on Apple’s current strategy of sucking as much money out of Candy Crush whales.

Windows Subsystem for Linux GUI

WSLg is short for Windows Subsystem for Linux GUI and the purpose of the project is to enable support for running Linux GUI applications (X11 and Wayland) on Windows in a fully integrated desktop experience.

WSLg provides an integrated experience for developers, scientists or enthusiasts that prefer or need to run Windows on their PC but also need the ability to run tools or applications which works best, or exclusively, in a Linux environment. While users can accomplish this today using a multiple system setup, with individual PC dedicated to Windows and Linux, virtual machine hosting either Windows or Linux, or an XServer running on Windows and projected into WSL, WSLg provides a more integrated, user friendly and productive alternative.

WSLg will ship with Windows 11, but despite it being developed and tested on Windows 10, it won’t become available for Windows 10 users, and is currently only accessible to users of Windows beta builds.

Revealed: Google illegally underpaid thousands of workers across dozens of countries

Google has been illegally underpaying thousands of temporary workers in dozens of countries and delayed correcting the pay rates for more than two years as it attempted to cover up the problem, the Guardian can reveal.

Google executives have been aware since at least May 2019 that the company was failing to comply with local laws in the UK, Europe and Asia that mandate temporary workers be paid equal rates to full-time employees performing similar work, internal Google documents and emails reviewed by the Guardian show.

But rather than immediately correct the errors, the company dragged its feet for more than two years, the documents show, citing concern about the increased cost to departments that rely heavily on temporary workers, potential exposure to legal claims, and fear of negative press attention.

Another severe case of theft nobody will go to jail for.

Why that Thunderbolt add-in card doesn’t work properly in your unsupported PC

I’ve long been intrigued by Thunderbolt add-in cards. Apparently regular looking PCIe expansion cards, but shipped with a mystery interface cable to the motherboard, of which there is a small list of supported models.

It’s not a secret that these cards may work in a motherboard which isn’t supported, but full functionality is not a given. I have spent the past few evenings trawling through many forums, reading about the many different experiences people are having, and have also purchased some hardware to play around with myself, so we can dig into these problems and see what (if any) solutions there are.

Excellent deep dive into a topic I had never once in my life stopped to think about. As the author concludes, it would be cool if we ever got working, reliable Thunderbolt add-in cards for AMD or earlier Intel systems, but it seems unlikely.

Pumpkin OS: Palm OS ported to x86-64

Pumpkin is the name I have given to my port of PalmOS running on the x64 architecture. Please refer to this article for basic information on this project. Also look for other articles in the PalmOS category for more information and some technical details on the implementation. This article is about the first Technology Preview of this project: a functional version of Pumpkin OS running on the Windows platform. This first release is limited on purpose: just a few PalmOS applications and nothing much else. This is also a binary only distribution, but do not worry, full source code will be released in the future.

I’ve been following this project for a while now, and this is bonkers awesome work. Very limited for now, of course, but as a longtime Palm OS user and lover of all things Palm OS, this feels like it’s made just for me.

Unlike POWER9, IBM’s new POWER10 processors are not completely open source

While POWER9 was big for open-source fans with the formation of the OpenPOWER Foundation and Raptor Computing Systems designing POWER9-based systems that are fully open-source down to schematics and the motherboard firmware, the same can’t be currently said about POWER10.

[…]

While IBM has published a lot of the POWER10 firmware as open-source, remaining closed for at least the time being is their off-chip OMI DRAM bridge and their on-chip PPE I/O processor.

This sucks. I am a huge fan of Raptor’s fully open POWER9 workstation and boards, and despite Raptor hinting for months now there were issues with POWER10’s openness, I was hoping things would be figured out before the release of IBM’s new POWER10 processors this month. Sadly, this seems to have been wishful thinking. Raptor’s POWER9 workstations are the only fully open performance-oriented computers you can get, and until IBM decides otherwise, it’s going to stay that way.

That just sucks.

Android 12 is ‘just a few weeks away’ as release candidate Beta 5 lands

Android 12 Beta 5 is here. For those that haven’t been following along at home, this is the last expected release before it hits stable and is ready for the masses — a so-called “release candidate” version that should be almost good to go. This latest version also picks up support for the brand new Pixel 5a, and it’s your last chance to get those beta-testing toes wet before Android 12 is released. On that note, Google also gives us a hint about its schedule, promising that Android 12 is “just a few weeks away.”

Well, a few weeks away for a very small number of phones. For most users, this release is months away, at best, and infinity away, at worst.

KDE Slimbook: the best way to run KDE

How do you write a review of a laptop when you’re struggling to find truly negative things to say? This is rarely an issue – every laptop is a compromise – but with the KDE Slimbook, I feel like I’ve hit this particular problem for the first time. A luxury, for sure, but it makes writing this review a lot harder than it’s supposed to be.

First, let’s talk about Slimbook itself. Slimbook is a Linux OEM from Spain, founded in 2015, which sells various laptops and desktops with a variety of preinstalled Linux distributions to choose from (including options for no operating system, or Windows). A few years ago, Slimbook partnered with KDE to sell the KDE Slimbook – a Slimbook laptop with KDE Neon preinstalled, and the KDE logo engraved on the laptop’s lid. The current KDE Slimbook is – I think – the third generation, and the first to make the switch from Intel to AMD.

With the help of the KDE organisation, Slimbook sent over a KDE Slimbook for me to review, and here’s my impressions.

Power and quality

The KDE Slimbook is the first modern AMD laptop I’ve tested and used, and it feels great to see AMD at the top again when it comes to laptops. The laptop Slimbook sent me comes in at € 1149, and packs the AMD Ryzen 7 4800H, which has 8 cores and 16 threads, running at a base clock of 2.9Ghz and a boost clock of 4.2Ghz. That’s more cores and threads than in any of my desktop PCs (save for the dual-processor POWER9 workstation I’m currently reviewing as well), which I still find kind of bonkers.

That HP PA-RISC memory does not fit into the Slimbook. Damn.

Integrated onto the processor die is the Radeon RX Vega 7 GPU, with 7 compute units running at 1600Mhz. This obviously isn’t a gaming-oriented GPU, but it can run less intensive games in a pinch, and since it’s AMD, it works perfectly fine with Wayland, too.

My unit was configured with a total of 16GB of RAM, in dual-channel mode (as it should be), running at 3200 MT/s. The motherboard has two RAM slots, both accessible, and can be configured with a maximum of 64GB of RAM – making this a rather future-proof laptop when it comes to memory.

It won’t surprise you in 2021 that my review unit came with an NVMe SSD – a 256GB, PCIe 3.0 model from Gigabyte, good for a maximum sequential read speed of 1700 GB/s and a maximum sequential write speed of 1100 GB/s. This isn’t exactly the fastest SSD on the market, but Slimbook offers the option for faster – and more expensive – Samsung EVO SSDs as well. On top of that, the M.2 2280 slot is user-accessible, so you can always upgrade later.

Slimbook sent me the 15.6″ model, which comes with a 15.6″ 1920×1080 60Hz panel. There is also a 14″ model with the same resolution and refresh rate. The panel is 100% sGRB, and is plenty bright and pleasant to look at. Sadly, Slimbook does not offer 1440p, 4K, or high-refresh rate options, which is a big downside in 2021. If it were up to me, I’d love to see at least a 1440p/144Hz option on both the 14″ and 15.6″, and I hope the next generation of the KDE Slimbook will offer this as an option.

Battery life has been outstanding. The device loses little charge when sleeping, and I easily get 7-8 hours of regular use out of the battery.

The keyboard deviates from the norm a little bit, in that it’s not the usual island chicklet type keyboard where the keys are surrounded by metal. Instead, the keys float in the keyboard deck, which instantly brought back memories of Apple’s aluminium PowerBook line. I prefer this type of keyboard design over the chicklet island design, and typing is a delight on the KDE Slimbook – the keys are stable, clicky, and requiring just the right amount of force. I also happen to think it looks really, really nice, and it has full-height inverted T arrow keys. Nice.

It’s amazing just how timeless aluminium PowerBook G4s looked.

The keyboard does have two minor niggles, though, and they both relate to the backlight. First, it takes 1-2 seconds for the keyboard backlight to come back on after it has faded off, and that’s a lot more annoying than you would think. The second issue has to do with the lettering on the keyboard. The backlight shines through the lettering on the keyboard, but in some places, it just does not shine through at all. I’m not sure what the underlying issue is – the placement of the individual LEDs or the lettering etching process – but it makes some keys hard to read when the backlight is on.

I love the look of this keyboard. It feels great too.

The trackpad is excellent, feels smooth, pleasant, and responsive, and I haven’t experienced any issues. It’s of the diving board design, and I think it’s glass, but I’m not entirely sure. Even if it’s plastic – if it feels and works well, that’s not an issue to me. I am, however, deeply intrigued by that little LED in the top-left corner. I have no idea what it’s for, and I am fairly sure I’ve seen it come on at least a few times. I made it a point not to look it up to see if I could figure it out, but here we are, and I still have no clue.

The KDE Slimbook comes packed with ports, which is a godsend in the modern world. On the left side, there’s a microSD slot, a headphone/microphone jack, a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet jack, and a Kensington lock. On the right side, there’s a USB-C port (no Thunderbolt, since this is an AMD machine), a USB 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, and the barrel plug power connector.

That’s a solid set of ports, and I have no complaints about the selection. The one big miss here is that the machine does not support charging over USB-C, tying you to the bundled charger with its barrel plug. I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t like barrel plugs – the sockets tend to be more fragile than they need to be, and it makes finding replacement chargers harder than it needs to be. In 2021, I expect laptops of this calibre and price to charge over USB-C. The USB-C port also doesn’t function as a video output, but the full-size HDMI port makes that not much of an issue.

Build quality is where the Slimbook really shines. It’s made of magnesium, a material that always feels nice to the touch and gives it more than enough rigidity in both the lid as well as the deck. Neither flex in any meaningful way, and thanks to the magnesium, it’s quite light too, at a mere 1.55 kg. The unit just feels nice, premium, and solid, and I like that.

This is a good-looking machine. Too bad I couldn’t ritually sacrifice the stickers because review unit etc.

Good fans

As far as grab bag features – there’s a webcam, and it works. As usual with laptop webcams, it’s the bare minimum, but fine enough for the video conferencing a lot of people need to do these days. There’s also an IR camera for Windows Hello-style facial recognition, and Slimbook provides a Linux application in its repositories to set it up that makes use of Howdy. Sadly, this application does not work with KDE – while you can scan your face and save it, trying to set up the log-in-with-your-face feature will throw up an error message about KDE not being compatible yet. I’m assuming I could get it to work with manual finagling, but the point of buying a ready-made Linux laptop is that I shouldn’t have to.

The speakers are downfiring, and sound perfectly fine to me. Many laptops this thin sound very tinny, bordering on the unpleasant, but the Slimbook manages to avoid that and sound a bit more well-rounded and full. Of course, it’s never going to be room-filling, but you can’t beat physics.

Moving on to what I find one of the most important aspects of a laptop like this – the fans and cooling system – I was very pleasantly surprised. Coming from a long string of Intel laptops, I’m used to lots of hotspots on laptops and whiny, high-pitched fans that drive me nuts. I pretty much do whatever it takes to shut those fans down, including downclocking and similar measures. I take this matter very seriously, and as my fiancée can attest to – my hatred for fan noise runs deep.

Very deep.

The Slimbook is the first Linux laptop where I haven’t had to do any manual tuning. The fans rarely come on during regular, day-to-day use, including when playing video, a common issue on Linux laptops. Even when the fans do come on, their sound isn’t whiny and high-pitched, but more a soft whooshing sound that doesn’t bother me at all. As you can clearly tell, I am terrible at describing sounds and noise, so I hope this makes sense. The end result is that I don’t even feel the need to mess around with power profiles and fan settings, since the defaults work just fine for me.

The Slimbook comes with a fairly standard BIOS, but it does have one interesting feature: it gives you the option to disable things like the camera and microphone at a firmware level. Sadly, the BIOS is not open source, and the laptop does not seem to use software like Coreboot like some other Linux laptops do, such as those from System76.

I make a point of not turning Linux laptop reviews into distribution reviews, but with this being the KDE Slimbook, I do have to say a few things about how the operating system is set up. It comes preloaded with KDE Neon, which is, for all intents and purposes, the official KDE Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu. You get all the latest KDE software, and new KDE releases become available as updates much quicker than in many other distributions.

There are a few niggles about KDE on the KDE Slimbook, though. First and foremost, KDE Neon uses something called offline updates, which I find an anti-feature instead of a feature. Offline updates make it so that once updates become available, they are downloaded to disk, and then installed upon the next reboot. This theoretically limits possible cases of update problems, but ti also makes the updating process a lot more cumbersome than what I’m used to. Why do I need to reboot my computer for a new version of Firefox and some other non-essential updates?

By all means, mark certain updates as offline updates – new kernels, X or wayland updates, in-use libraries, whatever – but making you reboot for every single update is not a pleasant user experience, and brings back terrible memories of the awful macOS and Windows update experiences.

Speaking of Wayland – since this is an all-AMD machine with AMD graphics, Wayland is fully supported and works great. You can use plain old X.org, too, of course, but it’s good to know this machine is entirely ready for the switch to Wayland. KDE itself has made immense progress on this front, too, and I haven’t run into any issues whatsoever (I ran Wayland exclusively on the KDE Slimbook).

A solid metal gear vs. a piece of fruit. I know who I’m putting my money on.

Conclusion

This is an excellent laptop. I have so few complaints, and the ones I do have are so minimal, I have no qualms about recommending the KDE Slimbook as an outstanding choice for both existing and new Linux users. The hardware is solid, fast, and attractive, the keyboard is great to type on, the touchpad is smooth and pleasant, and KDE Neon is an excellent Linux distribution for Linux users of all experience levels.

If you are a KDE user looking for a new laptop, the KDE Slimbook is a massive no-brainer: it should be the yardstick all other laptops you might be considering should be measured against. There are very few – if any – other laptops that come preinstalled with KDE, and even fewer that have the KDE logo so beautifully engraved on the lid. Part of the proceeds of the KDE Slimbook is donated to KDE, so by buying this machine, you’d also be supporting KDE financially.

Add to this the very, very reasonable pricing Slimbook employs, and this laptop is a total winner.

I don’t use KDE as my main desktop environment – I’m a Cinnamon person – but if I did, this would be my next laptop, no doubt about it. The good thing if you’re not a KDE user is that the KDE Slimbook is also available as the Slimbook PRO X, with a wide variety of preinstalled Linux distributions to choose from, as well as the option to go with an Intel version. Slimbook seems to understand the Linux community well, and is willing to go the extra mile to cater to the diversity inherent in using Linux.

Slimbook offers a number of other machines in the same price bracket, and I’m very curious to try them out and review them for y’all too – especially the Slimbook Executive, which comes with a 90Hz 14″ 2880×1800 display, and which may just offer a peek at the next generation KDE Slimbook.

Germany wants smartphone makers to offer 7 years of software updates

Apple is gearing up to roll out iOS 15 later this year. The company plans to roll it out to several of its devices, going all the way back to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. This will make Apple the only smartphone OEM to offer seven years of software updates to its devices. That’s a remarkable feat, considering that only a couple of OEMs on the Android side promise three years of OS upgrades and four years of security updates. To bridge this gap, the EU proposed a new law earlier this year that would force all smartphone OEMs to offer up to five years of security updates for their devices and deliver reasonably priced spare parts for the same duration.

Although the EU’s new right to repair laws are yet to go into effect, the German Federal Government has now announced plans to extend the support timeline by two years. A spokesperson for Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics recently said (via Heise Online) that the government body plans to enforce stricter rules that would require OEMs to deliver spare parts and software updates for seven years. In addition, the Federal Government wants OEMs to publish the spare part prices and not increase them over time.

That’s excellent news. With Germany being such an important part of the EU, I can only hope they will set the tone for the rest of the countries to follow. Do note, however, that it’s election season in Germany, so be on the lookout for political trial balloons.

Why can an ad break the Windows 11 desktop and taskbar?

Earlier today, Microsoft pushed a promotional message to early adopters of Windows 11. The promo intended to promote the upcoming operating system’s integration with Microsoft Teams. Instead, it caused Explorer (the Windows desktop shell) to stop responding and left users without a working Start menu and taskbar.

[…]

Based on the Microsoft-provided workaround, I narrowed the problem down to a registry key that contained a serialized JSON blob. The blob contained an advertisement for Microsoft Teams. The messaging and imagery in the promotion were identical to the panel you get when you press the Windows key + C on a Windows account not already set up with Teams. It’s unclear if it’s this exact promotion, however.

Microsoft broke every single Windows 11 computer through an ad. Windows users – you can choose a better way.

This unsuspecting Lightning cable packs an implant that can log everything you type

Dubbed OMG Cables, these new variants are more capable than their counterparts. According to their creator, payloads can be triggered from over one mile away. Attackers can use them to log keystrokes and change keyboard mappings. There is also a geofencing feature, a kill switch and the ability to forge the identity of specific USB devices, like those that can leverage a specific vulnerability.

While it’s unlikely us random, generic people will ever be the target of tools like this, there’s no doubt in my mind they’re being used all over the world to monitor dissidents, spy on competing companies, and so on.

PC-86-DOS

A number of years ago, an 8″ disk containing Seattle Computer Products (SCP) 86-DOS 1.0 was successfully imaged. The newest files on the disk are dated April 30, 1981, making the disk the oldest complete release of what was soon to be known as PC DOS and MS-DOS, about a month older than a pre-release of PC DOS from early June 1981.

While it is possible to run the 8″ disk image with 86-DOS version 1.00 under an emulator, it of course doesn’t run on a PC or any PC emulator/virtualizer. That’s a shame because most of the utilities included with SCP’s 86-DOS run under DOS just fine. In theory, it should be possible to provide a PC compatible “BIOS” component (IBMBIO.COM or IO.SYS equivalent) and run the rest of the system more or less unmodified on a PC.

In practice, it can in fact be done. Behold PC-86-DOS 1.00, running from this disk image.

In case you don’t know or remember, Seattle Computer Products was the company Microsoft bought the rights to DOS from, making SCP’s versions of DOS some of the oldest in existence. Getting these old versions archived and running on modern emulators is critically important for the field of computer archeology.

Apple delays rollout of controversial child safety features to make improvements

Apple, in a statement to various news outlets:

Last month we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material. Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.

Good step, but it should be scrapped entirely. Let’s hope this is not just a case of Apple waiting for the storm to blow over, to then sneak it into a random point release.

NEC’s forgotten FPUs

The story of NEC’s FPUs is interesting, but as is usually the case, something led me down this path. While looking through loads of old scrap boards I found a most curious arrangement, a board with a normal unassuming V30 processor, but right next to it was another 40-pin chip, a chip with a HUGE die lid labeled D9008D, dated similar to everything else, in the 1989-1991 range curiously copyrighted 85 86 and ’87. I pulled the chip (soldered in , of course) and it sat on my desk, for a year until I decide to open the lid on it, and what did it reveal? A die that most certainly was a floating point data path. This odd chip was an FPU, and an FPU that was directly connected to the V30 CPU.

Very interesting article about a very obscure topic.

A new path: vm86-based Venix emulator

So, I stole the bulk of my old 86sim-based Venix implementation, installed a i386 VM using bhyve on my FreeBSD/amd64 box and write a quick little test program. The test program worked, so in a fit of “why not give this a try” I ported the pcvenix.cc from 86sim to being driven from SIGSEGV in vm86 mode. Hello world quickly worked.

I didn’t even know what Venix was before coming across this post, but it turns out it was a lightweight UNIX implementation for a variety of platforms.