Microsoft Office update switches Chrome search engine to Bing

Microsoft is planning to use the Office 365 installer to forcibly switch Chrome users over to the company’s Bing search engine. Microsoft’s Office 365 ProPlus installer, used by businesses, will include a new Chrome extension next month that switches the default search engine to Bing. New installations of Office 365 ProPlus and updated installs will include the extension, as long as the default search engine in Chrome is not set to Bing.

Microsoft is clearly marketing this to IT admins as enabling its Microsoft Search functionality in Chrome, but it also looks like a stealthy way of pushing people over to using Bing. If Bing is already set as the default search engine in Chrome, then the extension never gets installed. Microsoft is planning to roll this out in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and India next month.

Windows is an advertising platform. Get out while you can.

Google will provide 8 year of updates for Chromebooks

When we first launched Chromebooks, devices only received three years of automatic updates. Over the years, we’ve been able to increase that to over six. Last fall, we extended AUE on many devices currently for sale, in many cases adding an extra year or more before they expire. This will help schools better select which devices to invest in and provide more time to transition from older devices.

And now, devices launching in 2020 and beyond will receive automatic updates for even longer. The new Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet and Acer Chromebook 712 will both receive automatic updates until June 2028. So if you’re considering refreshing your fleet or investing in new devices, now is a great time.

Eight years is a decent amount of time, especially since most Chromebooks are quite cheap – so this longevity is really good value. I only wish Google were this dedicated to Android, too.

NomadBSD

Speaking of using BSD as a general purpose operating system:

NomadBSD is a persistent live system for USB flash drives, based on FreeBSD. Together with automatic hardware detection and setup, it is configured to be used as a desktop system that works out of the box, but can also be used for data recovery, for educational purposes, or to test FreeBSD’s hardware compatibility.

This seems like quite the polished and minimalist – yet full-featured – FreeBSD distribution to test out your hardware.

Wine 5.0 released

This release represents a year of development effort and over 7,400 individual changes. It contains a large number of improvements that are listed in the release notes below. The main highlights are:

– Builtin modules in PE format.
– Multi-monitor support.
– XAudio2 reimplementation.
– Vulkan 1.1 support.

Wine allows me to run virtually any Windows game I use on Linux – including League of Legends, my most-played game – so it’s a pretty amazing tool in my book. Since many people no longer directly interact with Wine, using it through tools like Steam’s compatibility tools or Lutris, instead, it’s easy to forget just how important of a project Wine really is.

WordPad is gettings ads in Windows 10

An upcoming feature of WordPad has been discovered by enthusiasts, revealing in-app ads that promote Microsoft Office. The change is hidden in recent Insider Preview builds, and not activated for most users.

WordPad is a very simple text editor, more powerful than Notepad, but still less feature rich than Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer. It is good for creating a simple text document without complicated formatting.

The more advertisements and preinstalled junkware Microsoft shoves into Windows 10, the more the otherwise decent operating system turns into a user-hostile joke. Apple is going down the same route with iOS, and everything about it just feels disgusting and sleazy.

One of the many reasons I transitioned all my machines away from Windows and to Linux.

Apple dropped plan for encrypting backups after FBI complained

Apple Inc dropped plans to let iPhone users fully encrypt backups of their devices in the company’s iCloud service after the FBI complained that the move would harm investigations, six sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The tech giant’s reversal, about two years ago, has not previously been reported. It shows how much Apple has been willing to help U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, despite taking a harder line in high-profile legal disputes with the government and casting itself as a defender of its customers’ information.

This once again just goes to show Apple’s privacy chest-thumping is nothing but marketing and grandstanding. This is effectively a backdoor for government agencies to use, and if the “good guys” can use it, so can the bad guys. On top of that, this neatly ties into Apple handing over iCloud data to the Chinese government – data that is most certainly being used by the Chinese regime in, among other things, its genocide of the Uyghurs.

I prefer a company that’s open and honest about what data it collects and uses and why – Google – over a company that purposefully tries to muddy the waters through marketing and grandstanding – Apple. The devil you know and all that.

FreeBSD is an amazing operating system

As mentioned previously, because FreeBSD is a real multi-purpose operating system with many different use cases, FreeBSD is very flexible and tuneable. Whether you want to run FreeBSD on your desktop computer or on your server, it provides many tuneable options that enables you to make it very performant. The options set out-of-the box may not suit your needs exactly, but then FreeBSD provides lots of documentation on how to get it to work as you need, and it provides a very helpful community with many people who has experience in dealing with many different situations and problems.

I believe it is important to understand that FreeBSD is not like a GNU/Linux distribution. FreeBSD is an operating system made by developers who are also system administrators. This means that FreeBSD is supposed to be run by system administrators who understands how the system works. You cannot simply jump from something like Ubuntu, Fedora or OpenSUSE and then expect that you get the same experience on FreeBSD (I and a lot of other people would be extremely sad if that were the case).

The BSDs just aren’t my thing. I’m not a developer, and I’m not a system administrator. Over the past six months or so, I’ve moved all my machines and all my workflows over to Linux – my laptop, my main PC (used for everything that isn’t translating), and my office PC (for my translation work), and I couldn’t be happier (in the interest of full disclosure, I do keep Windows around on my main PC for possible future Windows-only games, and I have a Windows 10 virtual machine on my office PC for some Windows-specific translation software I need to keep around).

As I was planning this careful migration, I never once considered using any of the BSDs. For the simpler, almost exclusively desktop oriented work that I do, BSD just doesn’t seem like the right tool for the job – and that’s okay, I’m not the target audience – and I suspect there are many people like me. I think the BSDs are stronger for not trying to be everything to all people, and this more focused development seems to be exactly why someone chooses BSD over Linux.

And I see no reason why anybody should want to change that.

Google is working to bring official Steam support to Chrome OS

Last week in Las Vegas while at CES, I spoke with Kan Liu, Director of Product Management for Google’s Chrome OS. In a wide-ranging discussion about the Chrome platform and ecosystem, Liu dropped something of a bombshell on me: the Chrome team is working—very possibly in cooperation with Valve—to bring Steam to Chromebooks.

[…]

The next question, of course, is just what sorts of games would even be worth playing on a Chromebook when run directly on local hardware. Currently, most Chromebooks have extremely limited 3D acceleration performance, with only the most recent devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook possessing vaguely passable GPUs. Liu said we could expect that to change: more powerful Chromebooks, especially AMD Chromebooks, are coming. Liu would not explicitly confirm that any of these models would contain discrete Radeon graphics, but told us to stay tuned.

This makes a lot of sense. Sure, you won’t be running the latest and greatest AAA titles on Chromebooks any time soon, but Steam has a massive library of less intensive games and older titles that would run just fine on any mid-range Chromebook. On top of that, this would open Chromebooks up to Steam’s streaming feature.

The PinePhone starts shipping – a Linux-powered smartphone for $150

Pine64 has announced that it is finally shipping the PinePhone, a smartphone that takes the rare step outside the Android/iOS duopoly and is designed to run mainline Linux distributions. The PinePhone starts shipping January 17 in the “Braveheart” developer edition.

An interesting device for sure, and the dip switches on the motherboard that act has hardware kill switches for things like the microphone and camera are pretty neat. I do take issue with the “Linux-powered” as if that’s some unique quality or anything. Save for the odd iPhone, every single smartphone in the world runs Linux.

Maybe not in a form that adheres to your no true Scotsman idea of Linux, but 100% Linux nonetheless.

The new Microsoft Edge is out of preview and now available for download

From this incredible momentum, today I’m pleased to announce the new Microsoft Edge is now available to download on all supported versions of Windows and macOS in more than 90 languages. Microsoft Edge is also available on iOS and Android, providing a true cross-platform experience. The new Microsoft Edge provides world class performance with more privacy, more productivity and more value while you browse. Our new browser also comes with our Privacy Promise and we can’t wait for you to try new features like tracking prevention, which is on by default, and provides three levels of control while you browse.

The new Edge will also come to Linux, so this gives us yet another Chromium-based browser available on all platforms. Why, exactly, you’d choose Edge over Chrome, Vivaldi, or any others is still not entirely clear to me, however.

Opening up the Baseboard Management Controller

In 2011 Facebook announced the Open Compute Project to form a community around open-source designs and specifications for data center hardware. Facebook shared its hardware specs, which resulted in 38 percent less energy consumption and 24 percent cost savings compared with its existing data centers. What Facebook and other hyperscalers (Google, Microsoft, et al.) donate to the Open Compute Project are their solutions to the agonizing problems that come with running data centers at scale.

Since then, the project has expanded to all aspects of the open data center: baseboard management controllers (BMCs), network interface controllers (NICs), rack designs, power busbars, servers, storage, firmware, and security. This column focuses on the BMC. This is an introduction to a complicated topic; some sections just touch the surface, but the intention is to provide a full picture of the world of the open-source BMC ecosystem, starting with a brief overview of the BMC’s role in a system, touching on security concerns around the BMC, and then diving into some of the projects that have developed in the open-source ecosystem.

A good overview.

The AlphaSmart dana in 2019

The AlphaSmart dana is technically a Palm OS PDA, in the same way that Hannibal Lecter is technically a famous chef. The dana does run Palm OS 4.0, but it has almost reversed priorities from a normal PDA. For example, I drafted college essays on a dana, but never used the calendar or address book until I began writing this article. In contrast, Palm OS founder Jeff Hawkins distilled the average PDA user’s needs down to, “All I really care about is calendars and address book and trying to coordinate with my secretary.” Palm designed their operating system to organize a social schedule, but AlphaSmart Inc. used that codebase to create a device that focused on expression rather than organization. AlphaSmart was founded by ex-Apple employees who designed simplified computers for classrooms that couldn’t afford high end computers. AlphaSmart achieved these lower costs by hyperfocusing on composition. Those lower costs became irrelevant as laptop prices dropped, but the hyperfocus on composition itself has become more relevant in an era of distraction. If we consider the dana as a device for producing drafts, even its flaws are transformed into strengths.

Google is seeking to deprecate Chrome’s User Agent string

Google intends to deprecate the user agent string in Chrome.

According to the proposal, the first step is to deprecate the “navigator.userAgent” method used to access the User Agent string, suggested to start in March with Chrome 81. This change won’t have any visible effect for most people, and websites will continue to work completely as normal. However, web developers will be given explicit warnings in the Chrome development console that retrieving the User Agent string is no longer a good idea.

Next, with the release of Chrome 83 in June, Google will begin to freeze, or stop updating, the User Agent string with each update to Chrome. At the same time, Chrome will also “unify” the information shared about your device’s operating system, for example meaning that two computers on slightly different Windows 10 updates should have the same User Agent. This will eliminate one more potential fingerprinting method.

Finally, beginning in September’s Chrome 85 release, every Chrome rowser running on a desktop operating system, such as Windows, macOS, or Linux, will report the exact same User Agent string, eliminating all possible User Agent fingerprinting. Similarly, Chrome 85 will unify the User Agent on mobile devices, though devices will apparently be lumped into one of a few categories based on screen size.

User agent strings have long outlived their usefulness, and today only serve to artificially restrict browser access in the stupidest of ways. I’m obviously not comfortable with Google spearheading this effort, so I’m counting on a lot of scrutiny from the web community and other browser makers.

Windows 7 is no longer supported beginning today

It’s the end of an era. Today’s date, January 14, has been on the books for years now, and it’s the day that support ends for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. More specifically, extended support is ending for Windows 7 Service Pack 1, and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 and 2.

[…]

There are, of course, workarounds. Microsoft is offering Extended Security Updates (ESUs) for those willing to pay up, and it’s only available for Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise. The price is going to be per-machine, and it will double every year. In other words, if you’ve got a business with multiple Windows 7 PCs, it’s going to be costly to keep them on the legacy OS. ESUs will be available for three years. You can get ESUs through volume licensing or through Microsoft 365.

Windows 7 is 11 years old by now, and moving the operating system strictly to paid maintenance seems acceptable – you can’t expect operating systems to be maintained forever. This means that unless they’re planning on being irresponsible, Windows 7 users will have to start moving to Windows 10. They might want to download one of the many debloat programs, followed by a a tool that gives them strict control over Windows 10’s leaky privacy settings.

Or, you know, move to something else entirely.

Open letter from 50+ organizations want Google to do something about Android bloatware

Over 50 organizations including the Privacy International, Digital Rights Foundation, DuckDuckGo, and Electronic Frontier Foundation have written an open letter to Alphabet and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai about exploitive pre-installed bloatware on Android devices and how they pose a privacy risk to consumers.

[…]

Thus, the group wants Google to make some changes to how Android handles pre-installed apps a.k.a bloatware. They want the company to provide users with the ability to permanently uninstall all pre-installed apps on their devices. While some pre-loaded apps can be disabled on Android devices, they continue to run some background processes which makes disabling them a moot point.

The open letter requests Google to ensure that pre-installed apps go through the same scrutiny as all the apps listed on the Google Play Store. They also want all pre-installed apps to be updated through Google Play even if the device does not have a user logged into it. Google should also not certify devices on privacy grounds if it detects that an OEM is trying to exploit users’ privacy and their data.

With antitrust regulators from both the EU and the US breathing down their necks, I highly doubt Google will do what this open letter asks of them.

And let’s face it – you can’t on the one hand lament Google’s control over Android, while on the other hand ask that they use said control against parties you happen to dislike. I hate bloatware as much as anyone else, but I’d be a massive hypocrite if, after years of advocating for user freedom when it comes to smartphones, computers, and other devices, I would turn around and ask Google to lock down Android devices even more to Google Play just because I happen to think carriers are the scum of the earth.

A look at Celerity’s second generation 496-core RISC-V Mesh NoC

For those who are not familiar with Celerity, this is a multi-university effort that has resulted in an open-source manycore RISC-V tiered accelerator chip. The project is part of the DARPA Circuit Realization At Faster Timescales (CRAFT) program which wants to drive the design cycle for custom integrated circuits to weeks and months from years. The Celerity team first presented the chip at Hot Chips 29. Last year, at VLSI 2019, Celerity was back to talk about the PLL and the NoC of its second-generation chip. The presentation was given by Austin Rovinski from the University of Michigan.

I can read the words, but much of this is far too complicated for me to give any meaningful comment.

Microsoft is planning to phase out the Windows 10 Store for Business

To date, Microsoft hasn’t said anything publicly about what’s going to happen to any of its digital app stores. But privately, officials across various teams at the company have been trying to come up with a concerted strategy, I’ve heard.

That strategy does not call for Microsoft to drop the Web version of the Microsoft Store. I’m not sure what will happen to the Microsoft Store client that’s built into Windows 10 right now; my contacts say its future is “uncertain” at this point.

To say the Microsoft Store has been a failure might be a bit too harsh – it has allowed Microsoft itself to update some core Windows applications easier than ever before – but a raging success it is not. Windows developers don’t really care, and users keep installing applications the way they’re used to, so it only makes sense for Microsoft to reevaluate its strategy with regard to the various versions of its application store.

I’m not sad about it.

Farmers are buying 40-year-old tractors because they’re actually repairable

When a brand new John Deere tractors breaks down, you need a computer to fix it. When a John Deere tractor manufactured in 1979 breaks down, you can repair it yourself or buy another old John Deere tractor. Farming equipment—like televisions, cars, and even toothbrushes—now often comes saddled with a computer. That computer often comes with digital rights management software that can make simple repairs an expensive pain in the ass. As reported by the Minnesota StarTribune, Farmers have figured out a way around the problembuying tractors manufactured 40 years ago, before the computers took over.

I wonder if we’ll ever reach that state with computers – a point where they become so locked-down, unrepairable and impossible to fix that we will be forced to keep older hardware around just to retain control over our own devices.

Linus Torvalds: “Don’t use ZFS”

Don’t use ZFS. It’s that simple. It was always more of a buzzword than anything else, I feel, and the licensing issues just make it a non-starter for me.

The benchmarks I’ve seen do not make ZFS look all that great. And as far as I can tell, it has no real maintenance behind it either any more, so from a long-term stability standpoint, why would you ever want to use it in the first place?

ZFS could be the fastest file system in the world and randomly disperse kittens and I still wouldn’t touch it with a ten metre pole if I were Linus. Oracle is a colony of snakes led by the biggest snake of them all, and adding their code – even through shims or interfaces – should be a complete non-starter for any project.