AmiSSL 4.9 released

This is version 4.9 of the open-source based AmiSSL library for Amiga based operating systems. Version 4.x is a new major release which comes with full compatibility to the OpenSSL 1.1.x line which includes important security related fixes, TLSv1.3 and comes with new encryption ciphers which are required nowadays to connect to modern SSL-based services (e.g. HTTPS). This may seem like a small update to an insignificant package, but it’s hugely important for smaller operating systems like Amiga OS to remain usable in this day and age.

Google is restricting which apps can see the other installed apps on your device

Google is making some new changes to the Developer Program Policy that will make it harder for apps to see what other apps are installed on your Android device. Google says it regards the full list of installed apps on a user’s device to be personal and sensitive information, and as such, will limit which apps can access this information. Specifically, Google will be restricting which apps can request the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES permission which is currently required for apps targeting API level 30 (Android 11) and above that want to query the list of installed apps on a user’s device that runs Android 11 or later. These moves by Google to make Android’s permission system less permissive is a welcome one. These changes don’t really restrict users in what kinds of access and permissions they can give applications if they choose to do so, but the default access levels applications get are getting more restrictive, which I think is a good thing. As long as we can keep making different choices and grant the access we choose, all is well.

Windows 95: how does it look today?

Windows 95 was the “next-generation” OS from Microsoft: redesigned UI, long file names support, 32-bit apps and many other changes. Some of Windows 95 components are still in use today. How does it look? Let’s test it and figure it out. It’s always fun to dive back into old operating systems we used to use every day. Windows 95 is such a monumental release, and one that changed the face of computing overnight. It turned an already massive computer company into one of the largest, most powerful companies in the world, and its influence on how desktop and laptop user interfaces work today can be seen everywhere. Windows 95 also happens to be delightfully pleasant to look at, especially taking into account the jumbled, chaotic mess of a user interface Windows has become today.

Pixel 6 will be powered by new Google-made ‘Whitechapel’ chip

9to5Google can report today that Google’s upcoming phones for this fall, including the presumed Pixel 6, will be among the first devices to run on the “GS101” Whitechapel chip. First rumored in early 2020, Whitechapel is an effort on Google’s part to create their own systems on a chip (SoCs) to be used in Pixel phones and Chromebooks alike, similar in to how Apple uses their own chips in the iPhone and Mac. Google was said to be co-developing Whitechapel with Samsung, whose Exynos chips rival Snapdragon processors in the Android space. Per that report, Google would be ready to launch devices with Whitechapel chips as soon as 2021. According to documentation viewed by 9to5Google, this fall’s Pixel phones will indeed be powered by Google’s Whitechapel platform. Google’s been hinting at this for a few years now. I’m curious to see how these will stack up against Apple’s and Qualcomm’s chips, because unlike what some people seem to think, Google has a lot of experience designing and building chips – just not for consumer devices.

Apple’s cooperation with authoritarian governments

Over the past few years, Apple seems increasingly willing to cooperate with authoritarian governments, uninterested in protecting its own users, and unwilling to actually standup for human rights in broad terms, as often portrayed by its marketing department or direct statements from CEO Tim Cook. The company is quick to position itself as a prominent human rights advocate in the corporate world, especially regarding issues like user privacy and security. Although, as Ole Begemann has aptly pointed out, this is increasingly disingenuous to the point of deliberately deceiving its customers and the general public. There are even (unconfirmed) reports that the lack of end-to-end encryption that Ole criticizes is actually due to willful coordination and cooperation with the FBI. And like most companies in the industry, Apple employs a highly problematic supply chain, which makes its human rights crusade seem even less authentic. A good overview of Apple’s and Tim Cook’s incredibly close ties with genocidal, totalitarian regimes, and how the company seems to have zero issues selling out their users as long as they’re not in the west. I guess for Apple and Tim Cook, western lives simply matter more.

Fixing the oldest and nastiest bug in Commodore BASIC

Well, I’ll not tell a long story, how I debug, but come directly to the bug mentioned in the title. I tracked his existence down to BASIC 2.0 as used in the VIC-20, C64 and the early PET/CBM series and it seems, that it was never detected, documented or fixed. It is related to temporary strings, the stack of descriptors for temporary strings, that has a size of 3, and the so called “garbage collection”, which in reality doesn’t collect garbage, but does a defragmentation of string storage. Fixing an ancient bug like this must be a weirdly satisfying experience.

Armv9 introduced at Arm Vision Day 2021

ServeTheHome attended Arm Vision Day 2021 and posted a quick overview. At the event, the company introduced Armv9 which will bring about key advancements for machine learning, digital signal processing, and security. One of the key drivers of Arm expecting to see massive shipment growth is the need for specialized compute. Or another way to look at this is that a number of traditional analog devices will convert to some level of “smart” and connected over the next few years. An example was given of a mechanical pump (like a water pump) that could be monitored for failure signs and efficiency versus just pumping water. For each of those applications, there will be different needs in terms of sensor connectivity and processing, general-purpose and accelerated compute (CPU and AI as examples), memory, and communications infrastructure. Arm sees the lower power cost of new chips enabling a wider array of chips and therefore more chips being sold. Another key push will be for Arm SystemReady. This is building on Arm ServerReady which helped Arm servers go from being a science experiment to boot each server to our experience with the Ampere Altra Wiwynn Mt. Jade Server where it worked (mostly) out-of-the-box using a standard image. Arm SystemReady is probably the biggest thing for OS enthusiasts. One of the weaknesses of the Arm hardware ecosystem, compared to the x86 ecosystem, is the lack of a standardized boot environment. x86 has a BIOS or UEFI, and Arm has UEFI (server) and something (probably devicetrees and a fork of Das U-Boot). Going forward Arm SystemReady systems will be able to boot via UEFI to allow for a standard OS image like x86. They could have picked something else (coreboot, Barebox, Das U-Boot), but UEFI is at least better then what it was.

TenFourFox, Classilla wind down development

Two browsers for old Mac OS X and classic Mac OS releases, developed by the same developer, are shutting down. TenFourFox, the browser developed specifically to give PowerPC Mac users a modern browser, is the first. I’ve been mulling TenFourFox’s future for awhile now in light of certain feature needs that are far bigger than a single primary developer can reasonably embark upon, and recent unexpected changes to my employment, plus other demands on my time, have unfortunately accelerated this decision. TenFourFox FPR32 will be the last official feature parity release of TenFourFox. Today is a one-two punch, because Classilla, too, is calling it quits. Classilla is a modern-ish browser for Mac OS 9 and 8.6. An apology is owed to the classic Mac users who depend on Classilla as the only vaguely recent browser on Mac OS 9 (and 8.6). I’ve lately regretted how neglected Classilla has been, largely because of TenFourFox, and (similar to TenFourFox in kind if not degree) the sheer enormity of the work necessary to bring it up to modern standards. I did a lot of work on this in the early days and I think I can say unequivocally it is now far more compatible than its predecessor WaMCoM was, but the Web moves faster than a solo developer and the TLS apocalypse has rendered all old browsers equal by simply chopping everyone’s legs off at once. There is also the matter of several major security issues with it that I have been unable to resolve without seriously gutting the browser, and as a result of all of those factors I haven’t done an official release of Classilla since 9.3.3 in 2014. It’s an inevitable consequence of just how complex the web and web browsers have become. Single individuals – or even a small group of people – simply cannot maintain a modern web browser, let alone two, let alone on two outdated platforms. A big hit for PowerPC Mac and Mac OS 9 users, for sure.

Preview: IBM z/OS V2.5

By leveraging the strengths of the IBM Z platform’s computing power and resources, IBM z/OS(R) plays an important role in providing a secure, scalable environment for the underlying transformation process on which organizations are embarking to deliver swift innovation. IBM z/OS V2.5 is designed to enable and drive innovative development to support new hybrid cloud and AI business applications. This is accomplished by enabling next-generation systems operators and developers to have easy access and a simplified experience with IBM z/OS, all while relying on the most optimal usage of computing power and resources of IBM Z servers for scale, security, and business continuity. This is far beyond my comfort level.

GNOME 40 released

We are proud to announce the release of GNOME 40. This release is the first to follow our new versioning scheme. It brings a new design for the Activities overview and improved support for input with Compose sequences and keyboard shortcuts, among many other things. Improvements to core GNOME applications include a redesigned Weather application, information popups in Maps, better tabs in Web, and many more. A very big release, and I can’t wait to try it out and see how many extensions I need this time to make GNOME usable. Snark aside, I greatly respect the GNOME team for having a vision about how they want GNOME to work, feel, and look, and sticking to it. It may not be to everyone’s liking because of it, but there’s more than enough alternatives in the Linux world – this isn’t the take-it-or-leave-it world of macOS and Windows, after all – that finding something you do like shouldn’t be too hard.

Using 8-inch diskette drives with a PC

I have once stumbled upon an interesting article from 2018 published on retrocmp.de, discussing about provisions on connecting an 8″ floppy disk drive to a PC. You know, those huge “boat anchors” that accept flexible disks just four inches shy of an LP record, in exchange of a couple of hundred kilobytes data storage. That sort of type. The experiment there was to connect that big ol’ mainframe-era drive to a normal PC, as to be used under DOS as an archival tool. In 2019, the author got mixed results from his experiments: he was able to fool the system BIOS, tricking the 8″ drive to work with a geometry that of a 5 1/4″ 1,2MB DS HD drive. For the rest, he’d use a proprietary controller card paired with some paid software. As a follow-up to his article, I’ve decided to tinker around on how to have fun with these clunkin’ beasts using a classic PC equipped with a vanilla floppy-disk controller (FDC); without any commercial hardware, software, or some USB controlled thing-a-magic with Windows 10 support. Besides, 8 inch drives predate PCs as we know them, and classic floppy drives with PCs were mostly used during the DOS/Win9x decades. Behold! Completely absurd and pointless. Just the way I like it.

Fairphone suggests Qualcomm is the biggest barrier to long-term Android support

Fairphone—the sustainable, modular smartphone company—is still shipping updates to the 5-year-old Fairphone 2. The company won’t win any awards for speed, but the phone—which launched in 2015 with Android 5—is now being updated to Android 9.0. The most interesting part of this news is a video from Fairphone detailing the update process the company went through, which offers more transparency than we normally get from a smartphone manufacturer. To hear Fairphone tell the story of Android updates, the biggest barrier to longer-term support is—surprise!—Qualcomm. I thought this was common knowledge in our little corner of the world. Qualcomm has almost a monopoly on the mid-to-high-end smartphone world when it comes to SoCs, and they have a long history of cutting off support for chipsets well before those chipsets become unusable.

Linus Torvalds weighs in on Rust language in the Linux kernel

Although we don’t expect to see a full implementation of the Linux kernel in Rust anytime soon, this early work on integrating Rust code into the kernel’s C infrastructure is likely to be very important. Both Microsoft and the Linux community agree that two-thirds or more of security vulnerabilities stem from memory-safety issues. As software complexity continues to increase, making it safer to write in the first place will become more and more important. Torvalds’ pragmatism is one of the key reasons for Linux’ success, and I have no doubt his position and opinions on Rust in the Linux kernel will turn out to be the right ones.

Do you really want Linux phones?

The community around Linux phones is interesting. The phones do sell to a lot of people, but it seems a lot of those people come back to complain that Linux phones isn’t what they expected it is. For some reason all the distributions for the PinePhone are bending over backwards to provide an Android or iOS experience on the phone. The operating systems are judged on the amount of apps preinstalled and every tiny issue labels the distribution as completely unusable. Stability doesn’t matter at all, as long as there are features! more features! Doesn’t matter there are 20 patches on top of every package and things aren’t upstreamed. Doesn’t matter if the kernel is full of hacks with no upstream in sight for most things. The currently available ‘true’ Linux phones do not seem to be, well, any good. They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, and anybody expecting a fully functioning smartphone experience from the PinePhone or Librem 5 will be disappointed. I have no clue about possible solutions to this problem.

Arizona Senate skips vote on controversial bill that would regulate Apple and Google app stores

The Arizona State Senate was scheduled to vote an unprecedented and controversial bill on Wednesday that would have imposed far-reaching changes on how Apple and Google operate their respective mobile app stores, specifically by allowing alternative in-app payment systems. But the vote never happened, having been passed over on the schedule without explanation. The Verge watched every other bill on the schedule be debated and voted on over the senate’s live stream, but Arizona HB2005, listed first on the agenda, never came up. One notable Apple critic is now accusing the iPhone maker of stepping in to stop the vote, saying the company hired a former chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to broker a deal that prevented the bill from being heard in the Senate and ultimately voted on. This is after the legislation, an amendment to the existing HB2005 law, passed the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this month in a landmark 31-29 vote. Corruption and bribery at work.

Plan 9 transferred to the Plan 9 Foundation

The funky second OS from the Unix masterminds, Plan 9, has been fully transferred to the Plan 9 Foundation, and it’s been released under the MIT license. We are thrilled to announce that Nokia has transferred the copyright of Plan 9 to the Plan 9 Foundation. This transfer applies to all of the Plan 9 from Bell Labs code, from the earliest days through their final release. The most exciting immediate effect of this is that the Plan 9 Foundation is making the historical 1st through 4th editions of Plan 9 available under the terms of the MIT license. These are the releases as they existed at the time, with minimal changes to reflect the above. The historical releases are at the Foundation’s website. Nokia also posted a press release which gives some more background about Plan 9 for those who may not know about its history.

Why use old computers and operating systems?

On this blog, I write about the various computers I use and about the operating systems I use on them. Apart from Windows 7, which is relatively modern, these include Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, which at this point is quite old, and Mac OS 9, which is practically ancient. I’d like to talk a bit about why I use such old systems. A good, succinct answer to the posed question. I love using older systems not for nostalgia’s sake, but simply to learn, to experience systems I didn’t get to experience when they were current because I was too young or the hardware was too expensive. A few posts down I mentioned I’m about to buy an old HP-UX workstation, and I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and learn as much as I can about it.

When you have too much memory for SheepShaver

When I first got my 133MHz BeBox (not new, sadly), it had “only” 32MB of memory and it had four more SIMM slots to fill. While Be only officially supported 256MB of RAM, I was blissfully ignorant of that, bought an additional 256MB of memory in four equally sized 72-pin SIMMs and installed it for 288MB of RAM. (It can actually take up to 1GB, I later learned.) Nice, I said! And then SheepShaver never worked again. This is basically OSNews catnip.