NsCDE: Not so Common Desktop Environment

NsCDE is a retro but powerful (kind of) UNIX desktop environment which resembles CDE’s look and (partially feel), but with a more powerful and flexible beneath-the-surface framework, more suited for 21st century UNIX-like and Linux systems and user requirements than original CDE. NsCDE can be considered as something between a heavyweight FVWM theme on steroids, combined with a couple of other free software components and custom FVWM applications and heavy configurations. NsCDE can be considered as lightweight hybrid desktop environment. Be still, my beating heart.

AMD details Renoir: the Ryzen Mobile 4000 Series 7nm APU uncovered

AMD’s laptop offerings haven’t been amazing these past few years, but with the unveiling of their 4000 processors, that’s finally going to change. All that seems set to change. Fast forward to 2020, and notebook users are eagerly awaiting the arrival of products based on AMD’s latest Ryzen Mobile 4000 series processors, which combine up to eight Zen 2 cores and upgraded Vega graphics into a small CPU for the notebook market. AMD has already made waves with its Zen 2 cores in the desktop and enterprise space, and the company has already announced it plans to put eight of those cores, along with a significantly upgraded graphics design, into a processor that has a thermal design point of 15 W. These 15 W parts are designed for ultraportable notebooks, and AMD has a number of design wins lined up to show just how good an AMD system can be. The same silicon will also go into 45 W-class style notebooks, with a higher base frequency. These parts are geared more towards discrete graphics options, for gaming notebooks or more powerful business designs. The gaming market (at 45 W), the commercial market (15W to 45W) and the ultraportable market (15 W) are where AMD is hoping to strike hardest with the new hardware. I can’t wait for serious competition to Intel in the laptop space. It’s sorely needed.

Microsoft unveils full Xbox Series X specs with 1TB expansion cards

Microsoft is revealing the full specs for its Xbox Series X console today, and it includes support for removable storage and much faster load times for games. The software giant will be using a custom AMD Zen 2 CPU with eight cores clocked at 3.8GHz each, a custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 12 teraflops and 52 compute units clocked at 1.825GHz each. This is all based on a 7nm process and includes 16GB of GDDR6 RAM with a 1TB custom NVME SSD storage drive. Microsoft is using two mainboards on this Xbox Series X compact design, and the entire unit is cooled through air being pulled in from the bottom and pushed out at the top via a 130mm fan. That’s some serious firepower, but the Xbox One series didn’t lack power either, yet lost the market share battle to the PS4 without putting up much of a fight. Firepower means nothing without the games to back it up, and that’s where the Xbox One simply failed to deliver. Show us the games, because without those, all this hardware is useless. That being said, I’ve always had a soft sport for chimney-like computer designs since the PowerMac G4 Cube, and this fits right in there. Perhaps not the most practical design, but it sure does stand out.

Looking inside a vintage Soviet TTL logic integrated circuit

This blog post examines a 1980s chip used in a Soyuz space clock. The microscope photo below shows the tiny silicon die inside the package, with a nice, geometric layout. The silicon appears pinkish or purplish in this photo, while the metal wiring layer on top is white. Around the edge of the chip, the bond wires (black) connect pads on the chip to the chip’s pins. The tiny structures on the chip are resistors and transistors. That’s just cool.

Microsoft launches new WinUI website, listing the advantages of the platform

Microsoft has launched a new website for the Windows UI Library (WinUI) that provides more information on the various advantages of the modern libraries for the development of Windows. WinUI allows developers to access and use Fluent controls, styles, and other UWP XAML controls via NuGet packages. While earlier versions of the WinUI focused on UWP, the Redmond giant has been expanding the framework. The preview version of WinUI 3.0 brought with it support for the full Windows 10 native UI platform. The extended scope of the platform meant that developers could use WinUI XAML with their existing WPF, Windows Forms, and Win32 applications. The website terms WinUI as the modern native UI platform of Windows. Will this be the one that sticks?

French competition authority fines Apple 1.1 billion euro

Thanks to Dutch technology website Tweakers’ Arnoud Wokke for pointing this one out before any of the major sites have – Apple has been fined for 1.1 billion euros by the French competition authority for anti-competitive practices. You can read the announcement in French, too. The short of it is that between 2005 and 2013, Apple primarily sold its products in France through two specific wholesalers, who have also been fined, and the three of them agreed not to compete, limiting competition. Apple also imposed pricing upon its independent Authorised Resellers and Premium Resellers, making it impossible for them to compete on price. In addition, Apple also limited the supply given to these resellers compared to its own stores, which further limited the their ability to function. What’s interesting here is that this is Apple’s modus operandi all over Europe and the rest of the world, so it wouldn’t surprise me if other EU countries will work off of this ruling in the near future. This kind of illegal behaviour by massive corporations has gone unpunished for long enough, and it’s high time serious punishments are doled out. Good on the French authorities for this one.

Windows 10 version 2004 is coming: here’s what you need to know about it

We’re once again approaching that time of the year when Microsoft releases a new feature update to Windows 10. In line with the version numbering scheme we’ve been seeing, this update is currently known as Windows 10 version 2004, or 20H1, because it’s being released in the first half of the year. While we did get a feature update in the second half of 2019, there was only a very small number of additions, and those additions were also minor in nature. It was more about refining the previous update than making significant leaps forward. Surprisingly, even though version 2004 is a more significant feature update, it’s one of the smaller ones, despite having a longer period of testing with Insiders than what we’ve seen before. With that being said, there are still a few changes and improvements to many parts of the experience, and if you want to know all about it, we’ve compiled this list for you. Let’s get started. There’s some nice additions in there, but nothing earth-shattering or game-changing. Windows 10 is five years old now, and it feels like the model of frequent feature updates (instead of monolithic Windows releases and the occasional service pack) just isn’t really moving the needle.

The polygons of Another World: Atari Jaguar

We already covered earlier articles in this series, but I want to highlight this one too, because it covers one of the most unique consoles ever developed – the Atari Jaguar. The designers of the Jaguar departed from the traditional architecture where one CPU drives fixed-pipeline audio and graphics chips as we saw earlier in the series with the SNES and Genesis. If we find a Motorola 68000 like in the Atari, Amiga, and Genesis (albeit running at 13.295 Mhz) and a sprites engine (called Object), there is also two 32-bit RISC processors running at 26.59 MHz called TOM and JERRY. The Jaguar is wild.

Microsoft plots the end of Visual Basic

Microsoft said this week that it will support Visual Basic on .NET 5.0 but will no longer add new features or evolve the language. “Starting with .NET 5, Visual Basic will support Class Library, Console, Windows Forms, WPF, Worker Service, ASP.NET Core Web API … to provide a good path forward for the existing VB customer who want to migrate their applications to .NET Core,” the .NET team wrote in a post to the Microsoft DevBlogs. “Going forward, we do not plan to evolve Visual Basic as a language … The future of Visual Basic … will focus on stability, the application types listed above, and compatibility between the .NET Core and .NET Framework versions of Visual Basic.” Alright then.

Bill Gates steps down from Microsoft’s board of directors

Microsoft today announced that Co-Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates stepped down from the company’s Board of Directors to dedicate more time to his philanthropic priorities including global health, development, education, and his increasing engagement in tackling climate change. He will continue to serve as Technology Advisor to CEO Satya Nadella and other leaders in the company. Microsoft is in a pretty good spot, so Gates’ company seems to be in good hands.

Contrary to Trump’s claim, Google is not building a nationwide coronavirus screening website

Google is not working with the US government in building a nationwide website to help people determine whether and how to get a novel coronavirus test, despite what President Donald Trump said in the course of issuing an emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, a much smaller trial website made by another division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is going up. It will only be able to direct people to testing facilities in the Bay Area. People are dying, and the administration of the most powerful and important country in the world is lying to its citizens left, right, and centre. What a joke.

seL4 design principles

seL4 has been our team’s greatest achievement, but it didn’t fall out of the sky: it was the result of 15 years of research, and has evolved further for the past 10 years. From the beginning, the design of seL4 has been driven by a number of principles. But a recent internal discussion about some fine points of the spec (as well as some discussions with externals) reminded me that some of these principles are in the minds of the designers but not really documented. This can lead to people (internal as well as external to Trustworthy Systems) arguing for APIs that are not in the spirit of seL4. Hence I’ll try to write up these principles. Articles like these are rare.

Linux on mobile: here we are now

In the previous installment of this three-part series, we took a look at the reasons why having truly open source-friendly Linux-based phones are not only a good thing to have but are also necessary to shake up things in the mobile space. The idea, of course, isn’t new and goes as far back as the OpenMoko community-driven project and even the mostly-but-not-totally open source Nokia N900 and N9. Those days are long gone, however, and the smartphone industry has changed drastically over the last decade and so have the attempts at making Linux phones. In this part, we take stock of the options that are currently available not just to Linux enthusiasts but to privacy and freedom-loving people as well. I’d love to have a mobile operating system based on Linux that isn’t Android, but it seems like all the options still have a long, long way to go.

KaiOS Technologies and Mozilla partner to improve Gecko engine on KaiOS

Today KaiOS Technologies, maker of KaiOS, the leading mobile operating system for smart feature phones, and Mozilla, developer of one of the world’s leading web browsers, announced a partnership to enhance the Gecko engine for KaiOS, enabling a more diverse and open mobile internet for users around the world. Kai’s engineering expertise and Mozilla’s software support together will ensure future versions of Gecko are compatible with KaiOS-enabled devices and their web-based resources. I really want a KaiOS device to give the platform a proper test. It seems like such an elegant midway point between the cell phone of yore and modern smartphones.

Intel P-State changes could improve iGPU-bound performance

We’ve known that Intel’s P-State Linux CPU frequency scaling driver in general can be a bit quirky and especially so when dealing with Intel integrated graphics where the iGPU and CPU share the same power envelope. This has been shown with examples like using the “powersave” governor to boost iGPU performance while discrete graphics owners are generally best off switching over to the “performance” governor. As the latest though on helping the iGPU front with P-State, there is a new patch series talking up big gains in performance and power efficiency. Francisco Jerez of Intel’s open-source driver team sent out a set of ten patches today working on GPU-bound efficiency improvements for the Intel P-State driver. This is a very welcome patchset, since the interplay between Intel processor and Intel integrated GPU isn’t exactly optimal, as we’ve talked about before.

The EU wants to introduce a ‘right to repair’ for phones and tablets by 2021

The European Commission has announced plans for new “right to repair” rules that it hopes will cover phones, tablets, and laptops by 2021. If successful, these rules will mean these devices should remain useful for longer before needing to be recycled or ending up in landfills. The plans were introduced as part of a wide-ranging set of product initiatives that also cover textiles, plastics, packaging, and food with the aim of helping the trading bloc become climate neutral by 2050. As well as introducing new “right to repair” rules, the EU also wants products to be more sustainably designed in the first place. Under the new plan, products should be more durable, reusable, upgradeable, and constructed out of more recycled materials. The EU’s hope is to reward manufacturers that achieve these goals. Finally, the EU is also considering introducing a new scheme to let consumers more easily sell or return old phones, tablets, and chargers. Good. One of the most important aspects of these rules is that the EU wants to force companies to provide spare parts to third party repair shops, which is something that’s entirely normal in, for instance, the car industry, but so far hasn’t been implemented in the technology sector yet because tech companies are special because reasons. EU-wide right-to-repair legislation will force companies like Apple and Samsung to take device longevity and repairability seriously, and these benefits will spill over to other parts of the world, such as the US, Canada, and maybe even the UK.

GNOME 3.36 released

We are pleased to announce the official release of GNOME 3.36: “Gresik”. Version 3.36 contains six months of work by the GNOME community and includes many improvements, performance enhancements, and new features. Highlights from this release include visual refreshes for a number of applications and interfaces, particularly noteworthy being the login and unlock interfaces. The release notes provide a more detailed overview of the changes.

Hospital devices exposed to hacking with unsupported operating systems

As reported on CNET today: A huge proportion of internet-connected imaging devices at hospitals run outdated operating systems, according to research released Tuesday by Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity firm. The company found that 83% of these devices run on outdated software that can’t be updated even when it contains known vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. This is such a serious issue, but most people are oblivious to the problem of critical legacy systems that cannot be upgraded. Most critics just make uniformed statements like “upgrade” to a modern OS, but it’s usually a cocktail of ageing hardware and legacy software requirements that will stop upgrades from happening.

How Intel is changing the future of power supplies with its ATX12VO spec

We don’t often talk about power supplies, but Intel’s new ATX12VO spec—that’s an ‘O’ for ‘Oscar,’ not a zero—will start appearing soon in pre-built PCs from OEMs and system integrators, and it represents a major change in PSU design. The ATX12VO spec removes voltage rails from the power supply, all in a bid to improve efficiency standards on the PC and meet stringent government regulations. But while the spec essentially removes +3.3-volt, +5-volt and -12-volt and +5-volt standby power from the PSU, they aren’t going away—they’re just moving to the motherboard. That’s the other big change, so keep reading to find out more. Power supplies are definitely one of the more cumbersome parts of a modern PC build, so any changes there can potentially have a big impact. The new Mac Pro has really shown how a modern PC can be designed to not use ugly and annoying cabling, opting instead for various pogo pins and properly aligned connectors. Sure, that would be much harder to accomplish in the open ecosystem of PCs, but for an easier building experience and thus potential access to a larger segment of the market, players in the PC industry would do well to come together and take a long, hard look at the Mac Pro and how to replicate some of its innovations into the wider PC industry.

Zip files: history, explanation, and implementation

I have been curious about data compression and the Zip file format in particular for a long time. At some point I decided to address that by learning how it works and writing my own Zip program. The implementation turned into an exciting programming exercise; there is great pleasure to be had from creating a well oiled machine that takes data apart, jumbles its bits into a more efficient representation, and puts it all back together again. Hopefully it is interesting to read about too. This article explains how the Zip file format and its compression scheme work in great detail: LZ77 compression, Huffman coding, Deflate and all. It tells some of the history, and provides a reasonably efficient example implementation written from scratch in C. One for the ages. Articles like this don’t get written every day.