Reverse-engineering the Mali G78

After a month of reverse-engineering, we’re excited to release documentation on the Valhall instruction set, available as a PDF. The findings are summarized in an XML architecture description for machine consumption. In tandem with the documentation, we’ve developed a Valhall assembler and disassembler as a reverse-engineering aid. Valhall is the fourth Arm Mali architecture and the fifth Mali instruction set. It is implemented in the Arm Mali-G78, the most recently released Mali hardware, and Valhall will continue to be implemented in Mali products yet to come. Excellent and important work.

Windows 11 is getting an LTSC version, but not yet

When Windows 11 arrives this holiday season, there is going to be a ton of changes. It looks totally different, supports Android apps, and more. There are also changes coming to how Windows 11 is updated and how it’s supported, so just in case you were worried about it, you’ll be pleased to know that there will be a Windows 11 Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) version. Good news for people not interested in Microsoft’s update schedule.

From idea to icon: 50 years of the floppy disk

Fifty years ago, IBM introduced the first-ever floppy disk drive, the IBM 23FD, and the first floppy disks. Floppies made punched cards obsolete, and its successors ruled software distribution for the next 20 years. Here’s a look at how and why the floppy disk became an icon. It’s still amazing to me just how quickly they fell out of favour.

Revealed: leak uncovers global abuse of cyber-surveillance weapon

Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak. The investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the company insists is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists. Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones. Is anyone really surprised? Smartphones are the ideal tools for authoritarian regimes – cameras, microphones, GPS, and other sensors in one neat little package, always on the person, ready to be exploited. Of course criminal regimes are going to abuse them, and of course no smartphone is safe.

The perils of M1 ownership

In the next few days those using M1 Macs will be updating to Big Sur 11.5, blissfully ignorant of how, as an admin user, their Mac could refuse to update. Because now, in addition to regular users, admin users and root, there’s another class of admin user: the Owner. Let me explain. Just something to be aware of.

IBM, dominance, and big tech

Recently, popular Apple blogger John Gruber has been on a mission to explain why, exactly, tech companies like Apple don’t need any stricter government oversight or be subjected to stricter rules and regulations. He does so by pointing to technology companies that were once dominant, but have since fallen by the wayside a little bit. His most recent example is IBM, once dominant among computer users, but now a very different company, focused on enterprise, servers, and very high-end computing. Gruber’s argument: It wasn’t too long ago — 20, 25 years? — when a leadership story like this at IBM would have been all anyone in tech talked about for weeks to come. They’ve been diminished not because the government broke them up or curbed their behavior through regulations, but simply because they faded away. It is extremely difficult to become dominant in tech, but it’s just as difficult to stay dominant for longer than a short run. Setting aside the fact that having to dig 40 years into the past of the fast-changing technology industry to find an example of a company losing its dominance among general consumers and try to apply that to vastly different tech industry of today is highly questionable, IBM specifically is an exceptionally terrible example to begin with. I don’t think the average OSNews reader needs a history lesson when it comes to IBM, but for the sake of completeness – IBM developed the IBM Personal Computer in the early ’80s, and it became a massive success. Almost overnight, it became the personal computer, and with IBM opting for a relatively open architecture – especially compared to its competitors at the time – it was inevitable that clones would appear. The first few clones that came onto the market, however, ran into a problem. While IBM opted for an open architecture to foster other companies making software and add-in cards and peripherals, what they most certainly did not want was other companies making computers that were 100% compatible with the IBM Personal Computer. In order to make a 100% IBM compatible, you’d need to have IBM’s BIOS – and IBM wasn’t intent on licensing it to anyone. And so, the first clones that entered the market simply copied IBM’s BIOS hook, line, and sinker, or wrote a new BIOS using IBM’s incredibly detailed manual. Both methods were gross violations of IBM’s copyrights, and as such, IBM successfully sued them out of existence. So, if you want to make an IBM Personal Computer compatible computer, but you can’t use IBM’s own BIOS, and you can’t re-implement IBM’s BIOS using IBM’s detailed manual, what are your options? Well, it turns out there was an option, and the company to figure that out was Compaq. Compaq realised they needed to work around IBM’s copyrights, so they set up a “clean room”. Developers who had never seen IBM’s manuals, and who had never seen the BIOS code, studied how software written for the IBM PC worked, and from that, reverse-engineered a very compatible BIOS (about 95%). Since IBM wasn’t going to just hand over control over their platform that easily, they sued Compaq – and managed to find one among the 9000 copyrights IBM owned that Compaq violated (Compaq ended up buying said copyright from IBM). But IBM wasn’t done quite yet. They realised the clone makers were taking away valuable profits from IBM, and after their Compaq lawsuit largely failed to stop clone makers from clean-room reverse-engineering the BIOS, IBM decided to do something incredibly stupid: they developed an entirely new architecture that was entirely incompatible with the IBM PC: MCA, or the Microchannel Architecure, most famously used in IBM’s PS/2. In the short run, IBM sold a lot of MCA-based machines due to the company’s large market share and dominance, but customers weren’t exactly happy. Software written for MCA-based machines would not work on IBM PC machines, and vice versa; existing investment in IBM PC software and hardware became useless, and investing in MCA would mean leaving behind a large, established customer base. The real problem for IBM, however, came in the long run. Nine of the most prominent clone manufacturers realised the danger MCA could pose, and banded together to turn the IBM PC into a standard not controlled by IBM, the Extended Industry Standard Architecture (with IBM’s PC-AT of the IBM PC renamed to ISA), later superseded by Vesa Local Bus and PCI. Making MCA machines and hardware required paying hefty royalties to IBM, while making EISA/VLB/PCI machines was much cheaper, and didn’t tie you down to a single, large controlling competitor. In the end, we all know what happened – MCA lost out big time, and IBM lost control over the market it helped create entirely. The clone makers and their successful struggle to break it free from IBM’s control has arguably contributed more to the massive amounts of innovation, rapid expansion of the market, and popularity and affordability of computers than anything else in computing history. If the dice of history had come up differently, and IBM had managed to retain or regain control over the IBM PC platform, we would have missed out on one of the biggest computing explosions prior to the arrival of the modern smartphone. To circle back to the beginning of this article – using IBM’s fall from dominance in the market for consumer computers as proof that the market will take care of the abusive tech monopolists of today, at best betrays a deep lack of understanding of history, and at worst is an intentional attempt at misdirection to mislead readers. Yes, IBM lost out in the marketplace because its competitors managed to produce better, faster, and cheaper machines – but the sole reason this competition could even unfold in the first place is because IBM inadvertently lost the control it had over the market. And this illustrates exactly why the abusive tech giants of today need to be strictly controlled, regulated, and possibly even broken up. IBM could only dream of

Haiku boots to desktop on real RISC-v hardware

Hot on the heals of yesterday’s summary about recent Haiku news, we’ve got a big one – Haiku’s desktop running on real RISC-V hardware, the HiFive Unmatched. I finally managed to run desktop. Crashes was caused by unaligned access to framebuffer, access seems to require 16 byte alignment. I made some quick hack to enforce alignment in app_server when copying to front buffer, but it currently introduce artifacts. I don’t know why 16 byte alignment is required, radeon_hd driver works fine on Acer W500 tablet without alignment tricks. This is a big milestone.

Haiku’s latest activity report, more RISC-V news, and a small delay for beta 3

A random collection of Haiku news today – starting with the latest activity report. With the release of beta 3 creeping every closer, there’s a lot to report in this one, from improving POSIX support, to improvements to the Intel video driver, to work on the bootloader, and a lot more. Secondly, there’s news on the RISC-V front. Two months ago, a lot of progress was made on porting Haiku to RISC-V, and earlier this month, the Haiku project decided to really support this effort by buying RISC-V hardware and donating it to the developer in question. The HiFive Unmatched board has made its way to the developer by now, so expect a lot more progress on this front in the future. Lastly, the project has decided to push back the release of beta 3 by one week. There’s one remaining nasty bug in the WebKit port, and since the team wants to make sure the browsing experience is the best it can be, they’ve decided to give the developers a bit more time to iron out this final bug.

Amazon just got Fakespot booted off Apple’s iOS App Store

Fakespot, known for its web browser extensions that try to weed out fake product reviews, suddenly no longer has an iPhone or iPad app — because Amazon sent Apple a takedown request, both Amazon and Fakespot confirm, and Apple decided to remove the app. The giant retailer says it was concerned about how a new update to the Fakespot app was “wrapping” its website without permission, and how that could be theoretically exploited to steal Amazon customer data. But Fakespot founder Saoud Khalifah tells The Verge that Apple abruptly removed the app today without any explanation. Apple didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Two abusive monopolists walk into a bar.

Microsoft launches Windows 365, a Windows desktop in the cloud

Today we’re excited to announce Windows 365, a cloud service that introduces a new way to experience Windows 10 or Windows 11 (when it’s generally available later this calendar year) for workers from interns and contractors to software developers and industrial designers. Windows 365 takes the operating system to the Microsoft Cloud, securely streaming the full Windows experience—including all your apps, data, and settings—to your personal or corporate devices. This approach creates a fully new personal computing category, specifically for the hybrid world: the Cloud PC. As silly as this sounds, I’m actually somewhat interested in this. I have a Windows 10 VM for some Windows-only translation software I sometimes need to use, but managing and updating Windows is a pain, so the idea of just paying a few euros every month to have a Windows instance on some faraway server actually seems like a much better alternative.

Valve unveils handheld console running Linux and Steam

Update: It runs Arch Linux, and the Steam Deck interface is built on KDE’s Plasma. The Verge reports: Valve just announced the Steam Deck, its long-rumored Switch-like handheld gaming device. It will begin shipping in December and reservations open July 16th at 1PM ET. It starts at $399, and you can buy it in $529 and $649 models as well. The device has an AMD APU containing a quad-core Zen 2 CPU with eight threads and eight compute units’ worth of AMD RDNA 2 graphics, alongside 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. There are three different storage tiers: 64GB eMMC storage for $399, 256GB NVMe SSD storage for $529, and 512GB of high-speed NVME SSD storage for $649, according to Valve. You can also expand the available storage using the high-speed microSD card slot. This is an excellent value for money, and what’s awesome is that this is a Linux device (it can run Windows too, if you choose to install it, since it’s just a PC). It runs a new version of SteamOS, using the amazing Proton to run Windows games. This is how I’ve been playing my games for a long time now, and I can’t reiterate enough just how good Proton has become. At this price point, with these features, and with Steam’s massive reach, this device is going to be a massive hit. My fiancée and I have already decided we’re getting one, since it’s just so perfect for what it offers. I’ve been looking at similar offerings from Chinese manufacturers, but they usually come with compatibility problems, far higher prices, and Windows. This new device from Valve seems to fix a lot of these issues, and I can’t wait to see if it’ll hold up in reviews.

Porting QEMU to Redox OS

I am one of the RSoC (Redox Summer of Code) participants (students) this year (2021). As part of RSoC, I have been working on porting QEMU to Redox OS for the past one month. This is my first post detailing my project in order to give you an insight into it and what the future might hold. This will be an interesting project to follow.

Libre-SOC releases first non-IBM OpenPOWER chip in decade

The Libre-SOC project, a team of engineers and creative personas aiming to provide a fully open System-on-Chip, has today posted a layout that the team sent for chip fabrication of the OpenPOWER-based processor. Currently being manufactured on TSMC’s 180 nm node, the Libre-SOC processor is a huge achievement in many ways. To get to a tape out, the Libre-SOC team was accompanied by engineering from Chips4Makers and Sorbonne Université, funded by NLnet Foundation. Based on IBM’s OpenPOWER instruction set architecture (ISA), the Libre-SOC chip is a monumental achievement for open-source hardware. It’s also the first independent OpenPOWER chip to be manufactured outside IBM in over 12 years. Every component, from hardware design files, documentation, mailing lists to software, is open-sourced and designed to fit with the open-source spirit and ideas. This is an impressive milestone, and I can’t wait until this is ready for more general use. With things like RISC-V and OpenPOWER, there’s a lot of progress being made on truly open source hardware, and that has me very, very excited. This also brings an OpenPOWER laptop closer to being a real thing, and that’s something I’d buy in less than a heartbeat.

A look into CBL-Mariner, Microsoft’s internal Linux distribution

First thing to understand about Mariner is that is not a general purpose Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Fedora, it was created by Microsoft’s Linux System Group which is the same team at Microsoft which created the Linux kernel used for Windows Subsystem for Linux version 2, or WSL2. The goal of Mariner is to be used as an internal Linux distribution for Microsoft’s engineering teams to build our cloud infrastructure and edge products and services. Of course Mariner is open source and it has its own repo under Microsoft’s GirHub organization. No ISOs or images of Mariner are provided, however the repo has instructions to build them on Ubuntu 18.04. There are a series of prerrequistes listed in this GitHub page that roughly include Docker, RPM tools, ISO build tools and Golang, amongst others. Not surprising, of course, but still quite interesting to poke around in.

Biden signs executive order targeting right to repair, ISPs, net neutrality, and more

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order meant to promote competition — with technology directly in the crosshairs. The order, which the White House outlined earlier this morning, calls on US agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to implement 72 specific provisions. The topics include restoring net neutrality provisions repealed during the prior administration, codifying “right to repair” rules, and increasing scrutiny of tech monopolies. Good intentions, but these are just executive orders – not actual bills that can withstand the test of time. I understand executive orders are the best the US can get with its broken and gridlocked political system, but it’s simply not enough – the next president can just wipe them off the desk.

Devs start bringing Windows 11 to Android phones from OnePlus, Xiaomi

Running Windows on a phone has long been a dream for Microsoft enthusiasts, especially after the company discontinued their Windows Phones. While we may never see Microsoft’s vision for a phone running Windows 11, some young developers have shown us a preview of the operating system running on Android phones. We may end up in a world where Windows 11 will run on old Android phones, but not on computers with 7th gen Intel Core processors. In all seriousness, this is amazing and cool, and shows just how versatile Windows NT really is. Excellent work by these enthousiasts, and it keeps the dream alive.

The historical significance of DEC and the PDP-7, 8, 11 and VAX

Liam Proven posted a good summary of the importance of the PDP and VAX series of computers on his blog. Earlier today, I saw a link on the ClassicCmp.org mailing list to a project to re-implement the DEC VAX CPU on an FPGA. It’s entitled “First new vax in …30 years?” Someone posted it on Hackernews. One of the comments said, roughly, that they didn’t see the significance and could someone “explain it like I’m a Computer Science undergrad.” This is my attempt to reply… Um. Now I feel like I’m 106 instead of “just” 53. OK, so, basically all modern mass-market OSes of any significance derive in some way from 2 historical minicomputer families… and both were from the same company.

Extensions are moving away from the macOS kernel

Kernel extensions have long been one of the most powerful and dangerous features of macOS. They enable Apple and third-party developers to support the rich range of hardware available both within and connected to Macs, to add new features such as software firewalls and security protection, and to modify the behaviour of macOS by rerouting sound output to apps, and so on. With those comes the price that kernel extensions can readily cause the kernel to panic, can conflict with one another and with macOS, and most of all are a security nightmare. For those who develop malicious software, they’re the next best thing to installing their own malicious kernel. For some years now, Apple has been encouraging third-party developers to move away from kernel extensions to equivalents which run at a user level rather than in Ring 1. However, it has only been in the last year or so that Apple has provided sufficient support for this to be feasible. Coupled with the fact that M1 Macs have to be run at a reduced level of security to be able to load third-party kernel extensions, almost all software and hardware which used to rely on kernel extensions should now be switching to Apple’s new alternatives such as system extensions. This article explains the differences these make to the user. A good, detailed look at what Apple is doing with kernel extensions in macOS.

Google sued by 36 states over alleged Play Store abuses

Alphabet Inc.’s Google was sued by three dozen states alleging that the company illegally abused its power over the sale and distribution of apps through the Google Play store on mobile devices. State attorneys general said in a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco that Google used anticompetitive tactics to thwart competition and ensure that developers have no choice but to go through the Google Play store to reach users. It then collects an “extravagant” commission of up to 30% on app purchases, the states said. These lawsuits will keep on coming, and eventually one will be won – and it’s going to send shockwaves across the industry. I can’t wait.

Ubuntu switches to zstd-compressed .debs

Given that there is sufficient archive-wide support for zstd, Ubuntu is switching to zstd compressed packages in Ubuntu 21.10, the current development release. Please welcome hello/2.10-2ubuntu3, the first zstd-compressed Ubuntu package that will be followed by many other built with dpkg (>= 1.20.9ubuntu2), and enjoy the speed! Sometimes, it’s the obscure changes that can have a big impact. This change will speed up the installation of .deb packages.