Apple planning over-the-air OS recovery for iOS devices

The third beta version of iOS 13.4 reveals the existence of a new feature called “OS Recovery”, which is quite suggestive. As best we can tell, it looks like a new way to restore an iPhone, iPad, and other Apple devices without the need to connect them to a computer. It’s not yet possible to access it in the system as the feature is still under development and it could be scrapped at any time.

According to what we found in the system, it would be possible to restore the iOS directly over-the-air as well as by connecting the device via USB to another iPhone or iPad, similar to how Apple’s Migration Tool works.

This seems like one of those things that should’ve been the default for years now on both iOS and Android – so much so that I had to stop and think twice just to remember it isn’t, yet.

Firefox enables DNS over HTTPS by default for US users

Today, Firefox began the rollout of encrypted DNS over HTTPS (DoH) by default for US-based users. The rollout will continue over the next few weeks to confirm no major issues are discovered as this new protocol is enabled for Firefox’s US-based users.

[…]

At the creation of the internet, these kinds of threats to people’s privacy and security were known, but not being exploited yet. Today, we know that unencrypted DNS is not only vulnerable to spying but is being exploited, and so we are helping the internet to make the shift to more secure alternatives. We do this by performing DNS lookups in an encrypted HTTPS connection. This helps hide your browsing history from attackers on the network, helps prevent data collection by third parties on the network that ties your computer to websites you visit.

We can only hope other browsers will follow soon. This is a very important and great improvement.

Google launches Android 11 Developer Preview ahead of schedule for Pixel phones

I was on vacation for a few days, so I’m catching up on some of the more interesting news items from the past few days. This is one of them.

Following an inadvertent tease last week, Google today officially launched the Android 11 Developer Preview. This is the fifth consecutive year that the company is providing an early look at its next major operating system.

In more ways than one, this initial Android 11 preview is defined by an “earlier than ever” launch. The majority of past releases arrived in the second week of March, with Google this year wanting to give developers more time to provide feedback and prepare applications to new platform features.

Very much an early release, so there’s not a lot of exciting user-facing features right now.

Google users in UK to lose EU data protection

Google is planning to move its British users’ accounts out of the control of European Union privacy regulators, placing them under U.S. jurisdiction instead, sources said.

The shift, prompted by Britain’s exit from the EU, will leave the sensitive personal information of tens of millions with less protection and within easier reach of British law enforcement.

Brexiteers getting what they wanted and deserve.

Apple weighs letting users switch default iPhone apps to rivals

Apple Inc. is considering giving rival apps more prominence on iPhones and iPads and opening its HomePod speaker to third-party music services after criticism the company provides an unfair advantage to its in-house products.

The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.

Just the mere possibility of antitrust action is making Apple considering changes to improve competition – the strength of legal action. Of course, these concessions are way too little, and especially the EU will want more than just competing Safari skins – that’s all third-party iOS browsers really are – and mail clients.

Quibble: a custom, open source Windows bootloader

Quibble is the custom Windows bootloader – an open-source reimplementation of the files bootmgfw.efi and winload.efi, able to boot every version of Windows from XP to Windows 10 1909. Unlike the official bootloader, it is extensible, allowing you to boot from other filesystems than just NTFS.

This is only a proof of concept at this stage – don’t use this for anything serious.

Quibble can boot Windows from Btrfs, which is impressive enough in its own right.

An /e/ phone in 2020

One of the projects I have been watching with curiosity over the past year is /e/ (formerly Eelo), a mobile operating system that is based on Android, but with the pieces associated with Google’s software and services removed.

The removed pieces have been replaced with alternatives, so that it still functions as a complete mobile operating system. DistroWatch is quite impressed with the release, while noting it still has some rough edges.

The /e/ phone does not offer all the apps Android does, and it might not be entirely polished yet in the re-branding experience. However, it does provide a very solid, mostly Android compatible experience without the Google bits. The /e/ team offers a wider range of hardware support than most other iOS and Android competitors, it offers most of the popular Android apps people will probably want to use (I only discovered a few missing items I wanted), and the on-line cloud services are better than those of any other phone I’ve used (including Ubuntu One and Google).

I’d certainly recommend /e/ for more technical users who can work around minor rough edges and who won’t get confused by the unusual branding and semi-frequent permission prompts. I’m not sure if I’d hand one of these phones over to an Android power-user who uses a lot of niche apps, but this phone would certainly do well in the hands of, for instance, my parents or other users who tend to interact with their phones for texting, phone calls, and the calendar without using many exotic applications.

That’s quite impressive, and while unlikely, it would be great to have a stable, fully functional Android ROM that’s Google-free.

An open source rotary cell phone

Why a rotary cellphone? Because in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting. 

The point isn’t to be anachronistic. It’s to show that it’s possible to have a perfectly usable phone that goes as far from having a touchscreen as I can imagine, and which in some ways may actually be more functional.

Genius.

The paywalled garden: iOS is adware

Steve Streza, developer and all-around good guy, writing about Apple turning iOS into adware:

Over the years, Apple has built up a portfolio of services and add-ons that you pay for. Starting with AppleCare extended warranties and iCloud data subscriptions, they expanded to Apple Music a few years ago, only to dramatically ramp up their offerings last year with TV+, News+, Arcade, and Card. Their services business, taken as a whole, is quickly becoming massive; Apple reported $12.7 billion in Q1 2020 alone, nearly a sixth of its already gigantic quarterly revenue.

All that money comes from the wallets of 480 million subscribers, and their goal is to grow that number to 600 million this year. But to do that, Apple has resorted to insidious tactics to get those people: ads. Lots and lots of ads, on devices that you pay for. iOS 13 has an abundance of ads from Apple marketing Apple services, from the moment you set it up and all throughout the experience. These ads cannot be hidden through the iOS content blocker extension system. Some can be dismissed or hidden, but most cannot, and are purposefully designed into core apps like Music and the App Store. There’s a term to describe software that has lots of unremovable ads: adware, which what iOS has sadly become.

Apple, decidedly not an ad company, puts tons of ads into iOS, while Google, decidedly very much an ad company, puts basically zero ads in Android. Yet, this is something we rarely talk about because for some reason, we seem to just accept platform owners treating users like garbage and negatively impacting the user experience to try and get them to subscribe to “services”.

Apple is undertaking a massive push to get iOS users to subscribe to more and more services, and the company has clearly shown it has no qualms about degrading the user experience to get there. And of course, while you can block every other company’s ads on iOS – you can’t block Apple’s ads, since the rules Apple sets for third parties don’t apply to Apple itself, and you can’t change your default applications either.

Now that you’re locked into their ecosystem, Apple is going to try every sleazy tactic under the sun to try and get you to subscribe to their services. Have fun.

NetBSD 9.0 released

The NetBSD Project is pleased to announce NetBSD 9.0, the seventeenth major release of the NetBSD operating system. This release brings significant improvements in terms of hardware support, quality assurance, security, along with new features and hundreds of bug fixes.

Support for the ARM architecture seems to be a major pillar of this new release.

Google’s new Incremental File System may let you play big Android games before they’re fully downloaded

In early May of 2019, Google submitted patches to merge support for the Incremental File System into the Linux kernel. According to the documentation that Google submitted, Incremental FS is a “special-purpose Linux virtual file system that allows execution of a program while its binary and resource files are still being lazily downloaded over the network, USB etc.” The purpose of this feature is “to allow running big Android apps before their binaries and resources are fully downloaded to an Android device.”

Isn’t this already possible in various other ways, though? I mean, PlayStation 4 games can be played well before they’re entirely downloaded, as can Blizzard games, to name a few. I’m pretty sure those just load early-game assets first, so I’m not sure if that aligns with that Google is doing here, but this kind of feels like a solved problem.

DreamCast emulator Redream’s progress report for February 2020

Hot off the presses is our latest stable, version 1.5.0, marking the second stable release since the last progress report. In this past year, support has been added for multiple new platforms to make the emulator accessible, performance has dramatically increased, new features such as save states and cheat support have landed to make emulating more fun, and numerous accuracy improvements were made to continue polishing the overall emulation experience.

I love these detailed overviews of changes in emulators. Dolphin started the trend, I think, and now this team is picking it up.

What made the 1960s CDC6600 supercomputer fast?

Besides the architectural progress, the CDC6600 was impressive for its clock speed of 10 MHz. This may not sound much, but consider that this was a physically very large machine entirely built from discrete resistors and transistors in the early 60ies. Not a single integrated circuit was involved. For comparison, the PDP-8, released in 1965 and also based on discrete logic, had a clock speed of 1.5 MHz. The first IBM PC, released 20 years later, was clocked at less than half the speed of the CDC6600 despite being based on integrated circuits. The high clockrate is even more impressive when comparing it to more recent (hobbyist) attempts to design CPUs with discrete components such as the MT15, the Megaprocessor or the Monster6502. Although these are comparatively small designs based on modern components, none of them get to even a tenth of the CDC6600 clock speed.

Detailed look at the speed of the CDC6600.

How Windows 10X runs Win32 applications

Microsoft released its first emulator for Windows 10X today, allowing developers to get a first look at the new operating system variant for dual-screen devices. Microsoft wants to give developers a head start on optimizing apps before devices launch later this year, so this basic emulator provides an early look at Windows 10X before it’s finalized.

My first thoughts? Windows 10X feels like a slightly more modern version of Windows 10 that has been cleaned up for future devices.

In Windows 10X, everything is new. There’s none of the old Win32 code and applications lying around, or fallbacks to old Win32 dialogs. Everything is a Modern application (or whatever they call it these days), including things like the file manager – the traditional Explorer is gone.

While Windows 10X does support Win32 applications, they run in a container. As detailed in this video from Microsoft (select the video titled “How Windows 10X runs UWP and Win32 apps”), Windows 10X has three containers – Win32, MSIX, and Native. Win32 applications run inside a single Win32 container, capable of running pretty much anything “classic” you can throw at it, such as Win32, WinForms, Electron, and so on. MSIX containers are basically slightly more advanced classic applications, and these containers run inside the Win32 container as well. The Native container runs all the modern/UWP applications.

The Win32 container is actually a lot more involved than you might think. As you can see in the below overview diagram from the video, the container contains a kernel, drivers, the needed files, a registry, and so on. It’s effectively an entire traditional Win32 Windows operating system running inside Windows 10X. Applications running inside the Win32 container are entirely isolated from the rest of the host Windows 10X operating system, and Windows 10X interacts with them through specialised, performance-optimised RDP clients – one for each Win32 application.

Windows 10X overview.

This seems to finally be what many of us have always wanted out of a next-generation Windows release: move all the cruft and compatibility to a glorified virtual machine, so that the remainder of the operating system can be modernised and improved without having to take compatbility into account.

For now, Windows 10X seems focused on dual screen devices, but a lot of people in the know seem to think this is the actual future of Windows. Time will tell if this is actually finally really the case, but this does look promising.

Apple store workers should be paid for time waiting to be searched, court rules

Apple has $209 billion in cash on hand.

California law requires Apple Inc. to pay its workers for being searched before they leave retail stores, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday.

A group of Apple workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the tech giant, charging they were required to submit to searches before leaving the stores but were not compensated for the time those searches required. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is now pending, asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether state law requires compensation.

In a decision written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the court said an industrial wage order defines hours worked as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”

I repeat, Apple has $209 billion in cash on hand. Since it’s really hard to imagine how much even just one billion dollars really is, this demonstration should give you a very good idea. One billion dollars is way, way, way more than you think it is.

Apple has 209 times that in cash on hand.

How the CIA used Crypto AG encryption devices to spy on countries for decades

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

The article is behind a paywall, sadly, but I figured it’s important enough to link to.

NEXTSPACE: a NeXTSTEP-like desktop environment for Linux

NEXTSPACE is a desktop environment that brings a NeXTSTEP look and feel to Linux. I try to keep the user experience as close as possible to the original NeXT’s OS. It is developed according to the “OpenStep User Interface Guidelines“.

I want to create a fast, elegant, reliable, and easy to use desktop environment with maximum attention to user experience (usability) and visual maturity. In the future I would like to see it as a platform where applications will be running with a taste of NeXT’s OS. Core applications such as Login, Workspace, and Preferences are the base for future application development and examples of style and application integration methods.

NEXTSPACE is not just a set of applications loosely integrated to each other. It is a core OS with frameworks, mouse cursors, fonts, colors, animations, and everything I think will help users to be effective and happy.

KDE, GNOME, Xfce, and later MATE and Cinnamon have sucked up so much of the Linux desktop space that there’s very little room left for anything else. You’re either mainly a Qt desktop, or mainly a GTK+ desktop, and anything that isn’t based on either of those toolkits will either waste time recreating lots of wheels, or accept that half – or more – of your applications are Qt or GTK+-based, at which point the temptation to run one of the aforementioned desktop environments becomes quite strong.

This project, while very welcome and having my full support and attention, will have a very hard time, but that’s not going to deter me from being hopeful against all odds. Reading through the documentation and descriptions, it does seem the developers have the right attitude. They’re not claiming to take on the other players – they just want to make something that appeals to and works for them.

KDE Plasma 5.18 LTS released

A brand new version of the Plasma desktop is now available. In Plasma 5.18 you will find neat new features that make notifications clearer, settings more streamlined and the overall look more attractive. Plasma 5.18 is easier and more fun to use, while at the same time allowing you to be more productive when it is time to work.

A lot welcome changes and polish, and I’m particularly pleased with the death of the insipid ‘cashew’ menu that resided in the top-right of the KDE desktop. You had to dive into the settings to remove it, but now it’s been replaced by a global edit mode that’s entirely invisible until you enable it, following in the footsteps of similar edit modes in Cinnamon and other user interfaces.