Mozilla plans to remove the Compact Density option from Firefox’s Customize menu

The organization plans to remove the Compact option from the customize menu and migrate users who use Compact to the Normal mode once the change happens. The preference browser.uidensity will remain for the time being, but it is possible that it will get removed at one point in time as well or that the compact mode value won’t change it anymore at the very least. This is a terrible decision. I obviously use the compact layout everywhere, because not only does it look better and use less space, it also doesn’t have that insanely oversized back button. This change makes absolutely no sense to me, and I can’t wait until we get a hack to bring it back.

AMD 3rd Gen EPYC Milan review: a peak vs per core performance balance

From a competitive standpoint, Milan continues to strengthen and maintain a very stark one-sided performance advantage against its biggest competitor, Intel. Rome had already offered more raw socket performance than the best Intel had to offer at the time, and the gap is currently quite large as Intel has not updated in that time. Intel has stated that its Ice Lake Xeon-SP family will come sometime soon, however unless Intel manages to close the core count gap, then AMD looks to be in very good shape. Meanwhile, as AMD is focused on Intel, the Arm competition has also entered the market with force through 2020, and designs such as the Ampere Altra are able to outperform the new top Milan SKUs in many throughput-bound workloads. AMD still has very clear advantages, such as much superior memory performance through huge caches, or vastly superior per-thread performance with specialised dedicated SKUs. Still, it leaves AMD in a spot as they can’t claim to be the outright performance leader under every scenario, and offers another generational target to consider as it develops future cores. Another monstrous CPU by AMD, and another case where Intel simply doesn’t even come close. There’s offerings on the ARM front, though, that are slowly starting to make their way into the data centre.

The Nokia N900: the future that wasn’t

In what seems like several lifetimes ago, the mobile devices market seemed like it would be wide open. Even as the window for platforms that weren’t Android or iOS was closing rapidly, we were all hoping we wouldn’t end up with another duopoly. While there were several contenders – BlackBerryos 10, Windows Phone, to name a few – quite a few more nerdy mobile device users held out hope that instead of neutered, restrictive, and limited operating systems, we’d end up with a true computer in our pocket. No other device represented this slice of the market better than the Nokia N900. The N900 was the last standard Linux mobile device from Nokia, the last in the line of the N770, N800, and N810 internet communicators. The N900 was the first to include mobile phone functionality, making it the first Linux mobile phone device from Nokia, but not the last – the N950 and N9 would follow, but those were markedly different, more Android and iOS than standard Linux. The N900 ran Maemo, Nokia’s Linux platform for mobile devices, developed in collaboration with and/or using many popular open source Linux projects, like the Linux kernel (obviously), Debian, Gtk, GNOME, Qt, and more. Maemo’s user interface used the Matchbox window manager, and its application framework was Hildon. Underneath the Gtk+ user interface, Maemo was a remarkably standard Linux distribution, based on Debian, so you had easy access to all the usual Linux and Debian command line tools. It used APT for package management and software installation, BusyBox as the replacement for the GNU Core Utilities, and the X window manager. Still, despite its heavy focus on open source software, certain parts of the software stack were still closed source, like some code related to power management, as well as certain bits and bobs of the user interface, like a few status applets. This “mostly open source, but with some closed bits and bobs” would be a running theme into the future branches of the platform, like Sailfish and MeeGo. The hardware of the N900 is a case of throwing everything humanly possible into a single device, but to keep costs down, it mostly consists of cheaper parts. For example, the 800×480 resolution looks crisp on the 3.5″ display, but despite being released almost two years after the iPhone, the touch screen is resistive and requires a stylus. The SoC is a Texas Instruments OMAP3430, with a single core running at 600Mhz, supported by a 430 MHz C64x+ DSP and a PowerVR SGX530 GPU. You’ve got 256MB of RAM, 256MB of NAND flash, and 32GB of eMMC flash. The star of the show, of course, is the slide-out keyboard. It’s a full QWERTY keyboard that’s reasonably comfortable to type on considering its small size, and anyone who has ever used a Symbian device with a keyboard will feel right at home. It’s got a little kick stand, stereo speakers, and TV-out functionality through a special dongle and cable. Seeing Maemo 5 output to a giant 55″ 4K TV is a special kind of entertaining. Add to this the various standard things like WiFi, Bluetooth, a headphone jack, removable battery, rear and front camera, a dedicated camera button, and probably a few other features I’m forgetting. The N900 comes packed. Users of the N900 when it was new were a special kind of people. One of them was my brother – he was a die-hard N900 user for many years, so much so he bought a spare N900 in case his main one died. It wasn’t until the N900 really couldn’t keep up with modernity anymore – well past that point, honestly, but let’s not hurt his feelings – that he begrudgingly decided to switch over to an Android phone. He gifted one N900 to me for my collection. The N900 is a special kind of device that, while a footnote in mobile history, holds a special place in the hearts of a dedicated group of users who nobody is serving any more. These people wanted a proper mini-computer in their pocket, preferably running Linux, and the N900 was the only device that properly fit that niche. Its sort-of successors – the N9 and Jolla Phone, which I both have as well – simply do not fill that niche and do not scratch that itch. Today, most N900 users have probably migrated on to Android (and a few stragglers to Sailfish, I’m guessing), leaving behind the standard, regular Linux installation for the bastardised, weird Linux offshoot from Google. While you can install BusyBox on Android and unlock the bootloader and sort-of create an approximation of a standard Linux computer in your pocket – without the keyboard, without the more standard stacks and toolchains, it’s just not the same. There is still some hope for fans of the N900 – and other people who want a true Linux computer in their pocket – since there are two companies that sort-of cater to this niche. First, there’s F(x)tec, which probably comes closest with its line of smartphones with a slide-out keyboard. They currently offer a very cool device up for pre-order that’s capable of running Android, Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch, and standard ARM Linux distributions as well. I’ve been trying to get into touch with them for a review unit, but they have not responded (we’re small, after all). Another option that requires a bit more squinting are some of the very tiny laptops made by GPD – such as the GPD Pocket 2 and similar devices they make. They’re not quite the same as the F(x)tec or N900, but you can get quite close. GPD, too, has not responded to review requests, but again – we’re small, and if you can send stuff to outlets like Linus Tech Tips, OSNews simply isn’t on your radar. I’m genuinely sad that the N-line was yet another victim of Nokia’s endless mismanagement, since the N900 is simply a unique, one-of-a-kind device in a category virtually nobody even dares tip

ARMs race: Ampere Altra takes on the AWS Graviton2

ARM has introduced the Neoverse N1 platform, the blueprint for creating power-efficient processors licensed to institutions that can customize the original design to meet their specific requirements. Ampere licensed the Neoverse N1 platform to create the Ampere Altra, a processor that allows companies that own and manage their own fleet of servers, like ourselves, to take advantage of the expanding ARM ecosystem. We have been working with Ampere to determine whether Altra is the right processor to power our first generation of ARM edge servers. The AWS Graviton2 is the only other Neoverse N1-based processor publicly accessible, but only made available through Amazon’s cloud product portfolio. We wanted to understand the differences between the two, so we compared Ampere’s single-socket server, named Mt. Snow, equipped with the Ampere Altra Q80-30 against an EC2 instance of the AWS Graviton2. Cloudflare compared these two ARM server platforms and benchmarked them, and they give a ton of detail about them, too. Give it a few more years, and ARM will be a decidedly normal sight within data centres all over the world.

Haiku activity report – February 2021

Another month, another Haiku activity report. It was less busy this month, so there’s nothing that really jumps out at me as a major fix or improvement. I’m going to highlight the first listed item, since fixes in software delivery are always welcome. Andrew Lindesay continues his work on cleaning HaikuDepot sources and removing a custom-made List class to use standard (BeAPI and C++ stl) containers. There were some regressions in the process, that were found and identified. Haiku’s steady stream of fixes and improvements continues.

Chrome 89 increases desktop memory efficiency with PartitionAlloc

Google Chrome version 89 began rolling out to users in the stable channel on March 2 and should be on most people’s machines by now. The new build offers significant memory savings on 64-bit Windows platforms thanks to increased use of Google’s PartitionAlloc memory allocator. On macOS, Chrome 89 plays catch-up and gets closer to the performance of the flagship Windows builds. I feel like we get these reports and promises about Chrome’s performance every few months, yet Chrome keeps being the butt of jokes regarding its resource usage, especially on the Mac. Maybe this round will yield tangible improvements.

Four more KaiStore improvements for KaiOS

The KaiStore team keeps up the momentum with another set of updates that make it easier to find the apps you’re looking for and enhance the UX experience as a whole. We don’t talk much about KaiOS on OSNews, which is a shame – it’s an offshoot of Firefox OS, and a massive success on phones that blends smartphone and feature phone functionality into one platform. This isn’t a big news item or anything, but ran across it and feel some attention for this platform is more than warranted.

LG is crammings ads everywhere it can on its TVs

This afternoon, I was updating the streaming apps on my 2020 LG CX OLED TV, something I do from time to time, but today was different. Out of nowhere, I saw (and heard) an ad for Ace Hardware start playing in the lower-left corner. It autoplayed with sound without any action on my part. Now I’m fully aware that it’s not unusual to see ads placed around a TV’s home screen or main menu. LG, Samsung, Roku, Vizio, and others are all in on this game. We live in an era when smart TVs can automatically recognize what you’re watching, and TV makers are building nice ad businesses for themselves with all of the data that gets funneled in. But this felt pretty egregious even by today’s standards. A random, full-on commercial just popping up in LG’s app store? Is there no escape from this stuff? We’re just going to cram ads into every corner of a TV’s software, huh? Imagine if an autoplay ad started up while you were updating the apps on your smartphone. People want cheap TVs, so people get cheap TVs – warts and all. Someone should set up a website and list TVs that are “safe to buy” and do not contain or display any ads. Of course, this still doesn’t solve the issue of “smart” TVs being security nightmares, but it’d be a step.

Chromebooks and Chrome OS turn ten

Chromebooks launched 10 years ago with a vision to rethink computing by designing a secure, easy-to-use laptop that becomes faster and more intelligent over time. As more and more people began using devices running Chrome OS, we evolved and expanded the platform to meet their diverse needs.  Today, Chrome OS devices do everything from helping people get things done to entertaining them while they unwind. But we want to do more to provide a powerfully simple computing experience to the millions of people who use Chromebooks. We’re celebrating 10 years of Chromebooks with plenty of new features to bring our vision to life. It’s hard to imagine it’s already been ten years. Chromebooks are definitely a big success, and I’d love to finally sit down and properly review a Chromebook. I’ve barely even used one, and I want to know what it’s really like to live in a always-online world.

Debian running on Rust coreutils

Rust/coreutils is now available in Debian, good enough to boot a Debian with GNOME, install the top 1000 packages, build Firefox, the Linux Kernel and LLVM/Clang. Even if I wrote more than 100 patches to achieve that, it will probably be a bumpy ride for many other use cases. Fascinating initiative, and a hell of a lot of work. Rust seems to be gaining ground left, right, and centre.

Apple M1 microarchitecture research

This is an early attempt at microarchitecture documentation for the CPU in the Apple M1, inspired by and building on the amazing work of Andreas Abel, Andrei Frumusanu, @Veedrac, Travis Downs, Henry Wong and Agner Fog. This documentation is my best effort, but it is based on black-box reverse engineering, and there are definitely mistakes. No warranty of any kind (and not just as a legal technicality). To make it easier to verify the information and/or identify such errors, entries in the instruction tables link to the experiments and results (~35k tables of counter values). Amazing work, but the fact this kind of work is even needed illustrates just how anti-consumer these new Macs really are.

Wait, what? MIPS becomes RISC-V

What a long, strange trip it’s been. MIPS Technologies no longer designs MIPS processors. Instead, it’s joined the RISC-V camp, abandoning its eponymous architecture for one that has strong historical and technical ties. The move apparently heralds the end of the road for MIPS as a CPU family, and a further (slight) diminution in the variety of processors available. It’s the final arc of an architecture. Interestingly, MIPS and RISC-V share an architect in Dave Patterson, and MIPS could be seen as an ancestor of RISC-V.

The Macintosh Application Environment

Thanks to Twitter, here’s an interesting footnote in computing history. As A/UX development was winding down, Apple was working on another project called the Macintosh Application Environment. This was an emulator that allowed users to run Mac software under Sun’s Solaris or Hewlett Packard’s HP-UX. A great deal of A/UX technology went into the design of this ill-fated product. This page is a pictorial tribute to the Macintosh Application Environment, running under Solaris 8 on an Ultra 10 workstation. If you want to try the MAE, you’ll need a Sun box running Solaris 9 or below – The software does not appear to work under Solaris 10. This is absolutely fascinating, and I had no idea this existed.

Intel Core i7-11700K review: blasting off with Rocket Lake

Our results clearly show that Intel’s performance, while substantial, still trails its main competitor, AMD. In a core-for-core comparison, Intel is slightly slower and a lot more inefficient. The smart money would be to get the AMD processor. However, due to high demand and prioritizing commercial and enterprise contracts, the only parts readily available on retail shelves right now are from Intel. Any user looking to buy or build a PC today has to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge their way to find one for sale, and also hope that it is not at a vastly inflated price. The less stressful solution would be to buy Intel, and use Intel’s latest platform in Rocket Lake. This is Intel’s 10nm design backported to 14nm. It’s not great, and lags behind AMD substantially, but with the chip shortage, it’s probably the only processor you can get at a halfway reasonable price for the foreseeable future.

Proton has enabled 7000 Windows games to run on Linux

That’s one hell of a number of games. Proton has been receiving many updates in the past few months as well, with the introduction of the Soldier Linux runtime container and Proton Experimental on top of the regular Proton releases. We are still getting about 100 new titles working flawlessly (according to user reports) on a monthly basis, which is a very healthy and steady growth. Another point is the percentage of Windows games working out of the box in Proton over time. The number has been close to 50% since for a long time and seems to be fairly stable. Proton is one of the biggest things to happen to desktop Linux in over a decade – or more.

Google’s FLoC is a terrible idea

On OSNews we recently reported on how Google plans to remove support for third-party cookies. Many have seen this as offering a privacy boost for users, leading to a better Web where targeted ads based on web-browser behaviour are a thing of the past. The EFF takes a different view. Google is leading the charge to replace third-party cookies with a new suite of technologies to target ads on the Web. And some of its proposals show that it hasn’t learned the right lessons from the ongoing backlash to the surveillance business model. This post will focus on one of those proposals, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which is perhaps the most ambitious—and potentially the most harmful. FLoC is meant to be a new way to make your browser do the profiling that third-party trackers used to do themselves: in this case, boiling down your recent browsing activity into a behavioral label, and then sharing it with websites and advertisers. The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process. It may also exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting.

Flutter 2 is coming with support for Windows and macOS, foldables, and a ton more

The great unicorn of software development is to have one language and framework that enables devs to code an app once and run it on any operating system and any type of device. Flutter has been aiming to do this since its inception, and today it gets quite a bit closer to that goal with the announcement of Flutter 2. The latest major update brings major enhancements for mobile platforms, adds support to desktop, and massively extends its capabilities on the web — among other things. Does anyone here have experience with Flutter? It seems like it’s gaining some steam judging by the increase in news stories about it recently.