What if we had local-first software?

An interesting thought exercise. What if the Internet had never become a giant vacuum for malevolent ad agencies and desktops hadn’t become stupidly over provisioned thin clients for web pages? Instead, what if the Internet was only used to facilitate data synchronization between endpoints? Could we get there from our current place? Let’s ask ourselves: “what if the Internet was offline first? And what if we had local-first software paving the way into an offline SaaS model?” Actually, the authors of this paper (“Local-First Software: You Own Your Data, in spite of the Cloud”) raise these exact same questions in their work, and it’ll be our matter at hand today. How would an offline-first Internet look like?

SDL2 upstreams OS/2 Support

If 2020 couldn’t get more peculiar, today the SDL2 project mainlined support for the OS/2 operating system. While OS/2 is no longer maintained by IBM and was never really a gaming platform for where SDL2 is most commonly used, this software library that serves as an abstraction layer for multimedia/gaming hardware components and software platforms has merged the OS/2 port. Neat.

Sailfish OS 3.4 released

The headline improvement in this new version of Sailfish OS is a big upgrade tot he browser engine. We’ve upgraded the browser engine to Gecko ESR52. This makes using the Sailfish OS browser already much more enjoyable! This isn’t the end of the story though, and is in fact just the first step of our plan to gradually upgrade the browser. As the browser is open source, some of you may have already noticed from the repositories that we are continuing to upgrade the engine for upcoming releases. Newer browser engine versions bring in thousands of bug fixes, improvements to the rendering and compatibility with various newer browser technologies. On top of that, this release brings experimental Rust support, the first steps towards 64bit ARM support – about time, I would say – and support for multiple users on a single device.

KDE Plasma 5.20 released

A big update for the venerable KDE desktop. Everyday utilities and tools, such as the Panels, Task Manager, Notifications and System Settings, have all been overhauled to make them more usable, efficient, and friendlier. Meanwhile, developers are hard at work adapting Plasma and all its bits and pieces to Wayland. Once done, Plasma will not only be readier for the future, but will also work better with touchscreens and multiple screens with different refresh rates and DPIs. Plasma will also offer better support for hardware-accelerated graphics, be more secure, and enjoy many more advantages. Although still work in progress, 5.20 already offers users many of the benefits of Plasma on Wayland. This is a substantial release that’s pretty much a must for every KDE user. I can’t wait until Wayland can truly be used as the default, and I feel that moment is actually quite, quite close now.

Petit FAT file system module

Petit FatFs is a sub-set of FatFs module for tiny 8-bit microcontrollers. It is written in compliance with ANSI C and completely separated from the disk I/O layer. It can be incorporated into the tiny microcontrollers with limited memory even if the RAM size is less than sector size. Also full featured FAT file system module is available here. Fascinating little project.

Linux 5.9 released

Linux 5.9 is out as the 2020 autumn kernel update. Linux 5.9 has a number of exciting improvements including initial support for upcoming Radeon RX 6000 “RDNA 2” graphics cards, initial Intel Rocket Lake graphics, NVMe zoned namespaces (ZNS) support, various storage improvements, IBM’s initial work on POWER10 CPU bring-up, the FSGSBASE instruction is now used, 32-bit x86 Clang build support, and more. It will make its way to your distribution eventually, to your separate kernel repository, or, for the brave ones, to your compile command.

Everything you need to know about Android’s Project Mainline

One of the biggest changes in Android in recent years that flew under the radar, relatively speaking against its importance, was the introduction of Project Mainline in Android 10. Google mandates the inclusion of specific Mainline modules across Android releases, with Android 11 coming in with a combined compulsory total of 25 Mainline modules. Here is an explanation on what Project Mainline is and what it aims to solve, alongside a list of all of Android’s Project Mainline modules. A great overview of this very important, relatively new part of Android.

Apple tells secure messaging app Telegram to take down protestor channels in Belarus

Apple is requesting that Telegram shut down three channels used in Belarus to expose the identities of individuals belonging to the Belarusian authoritarian regime that may be oppressing civilians. Apple’s concern is that revealing the identities of law enforcement individuals may give rise to further violence. Telegram, however, would prefer to keep the channels open, but the company said that it feels it has no choice in the matter. These channels are a tool for Belarus’ citizens protesting the recently rigged presidential election, but, with a centralized entity like Apple calling the shots on its own App Store, there’s little the protesters can do about it, explains Telegram CEO Pavel Durov. That’s what happens when you’re a company with zero morals and values, run by people with zero morals and values. We here in the west just accept that it’s entirely okay for corporations to value money over human lives and our core democratic ideals of freedom of liberty, because we’ve been brainwashed that it’s not just acceptable, but entirely desirable to sacrifice every shred of dignity at the altar of shareholder value. Putting money and shareholders above all else is not a a law of nature, it is not a universal constant – it is a choice. Unless we all shed centuries of indoctrination about the sacredness of shareholder value – from the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the first shareholder-owned company and arguably the most valuable company in human history, and its institutional use of violence, exploitation, and slavery, all the way to Apple, the current most valuable company in the world, and its role in the Chinese surveillance state and thus the genocide taking place there – we will continue to sit idly by as our fellow men and women on the street in our neighbouring countries suffer and the world we live in gets destroyed.

Plasma Mobile update: September 2020

The Plasma Mobile team is happy to present the Plasma Mobile updates from the month of September. This month’s update includes various improvements and bugfixes in file dialogs, the virtual keyboard, lockscreen, various applications, and updates from KDE’s annual conference, Akademy. It sucks that it’s so difficult to test open source mobile operating systems like this. The ARM world is such a messy patch work of slightly incompatible hardware and closed and open bits and pieces, making it very hard to just install this on a phone you have lying around.

AMD Ryzen 5000 and Zen 3 on november 5th: +19% IPC, claims best gaming CPU

Dr. Lisa Su, the CEO of AMD, has today announced the company’s next generation mainstream Ryzen processor. The new family, known as the Ryzen 5000 series, includes four parts and supports up to sixteen cores. The key element of the new product is the core design, with AMD’s latest Zen 3 microarchitecture, promising a 19% raw increase in performance-per-clock, well above recent generational improvements. The new processors are socket-compatible with existing 500-series motherboards, and will be available at retail from November 5th. AMD is putting a clear marker in the sand, calling one of its halo products as ‘The World’s Best Gaming CPU’.  We have details. They just keep kicking Intel while they’re down. This is a massive leap forward without a nanometer change.

IBM to break up 109-year old company to focus on cloud growth

International Business Machines Corp is splitting itself into two public companies, capping a years-long effort by the world’s first big computing firm to diversify away from its legacy businesses to focus on high-margin cloud computing. IBM will list its IT infrastructure services unit, which provides technical support for 4,600 clients in 115 countries and has a backlog of $60 billion, as a separate company with a new name by the end of 2021. The new company will have 90,000 employees and its leadership structure will be decided in a few months, Chief Financial Officer James Kavanaugh told Reuters. I have no idea what to say about this. IBM is so far out of my comfort zone these days.

We hacked Apple for 3 months: here’s what we found

During our engagement, we found a variety of vulnerabilities in core portions of their infrastructure that would’ve allowed an attacker to fully compromise both customer and employee applications, launch a worm capable of automatically taking over a victim’s iCloud account, retrieve source code for internal Apple projects, fully compromise an industrial control warehouse software used by Apple, and take over the sessions of Apple employees with the capability of accessing management tools and sensitive resources. There were a total of 55 vulnerabilities discovered with 11 critical severity, 29 high severity, 13 medium severity, and 2 low severity reports. These severities were assessed by us for summarization purposes and are dependent on a mix of CVSS and our understanding of the business related impact. As of October 6th, 2020, the vast majority of these findings have been fixed and credited. They were typically remediated within 1-2 business days (with some being fixed in as little as 4-6 hours). Definitely a speedy response by Apple, but seeing the severity of the vulnerabilities found, that seems hardly surprising – the hackers even managed to get access to the source code for iOS, macOS, and other Apple projects. Our proof of concept for this report was demonstrating we could read and access Apple’s internal maven repository which contained the source code for what appeared to be hundreds of different applications, iOS, and macOS. You can bet that they haven’t been the only one snooping around in there.

DDR5 is coming: first 64GB DDR5-4800 modules from SK Hynix

Discussion of the next generation of DDR memory has been aflutter in recent months as manufacturers have been showcasing a wide variety of test vehicles ahead of a full product launch. Platforms that plan to use DDR5 are also fast approaching, with an expected debut on the enterprise side before slowly trickling down to consumer. As with all these things, development comes in stages: memory controllers, interfaces, electrical equivalent testing IP, and modules. It’s that final stage that SK Hynix is launching today, or at least the chips that go into these modules. We’re gearing up for a return of the times where when buying a new motherboard or new memory, you better make sure the right DDR version is selected.

Where did the 64K page size come from?

Lots of people were excited by the news over Hangover’s port to ppc64le, and while there’s a long way to go, the fact it exists is a definite step forward to improving the workstation experience on OpenPOWER. Except, of course, that many folks (including your humble author) can’t run it: Hangover currently requires a kernel with a 4K memory page size, which is the page size of the majority of extant systems (certainly x86_64, which only offers a 4K page size). ppc64 and ppc64le can certainly run on a 4K page size and some distributions do, yet the two probably most common distributions OpenPOWER users run — Debian and Fedora — default to a 64K page size. This article gives an answer to the question why.

I’m a POWER user

This article provides a subjective history of POWER and open source from the viewpoint of an open source developer, outlines a few trends and conclusions, and previews what the future will bring. It is based on my talk at the annual OpenPOWER North America Summit, in which I aimed to show the importance of desktop/workstation-class hardware available to developers. In this article, I will cover a few additional topics, including cloud resources available to POWER developers, as well as a glimpse into the products and technologies under development. The biggest problem for POWER that I can see at the moment is that the kind of POWER processors you want – little endian – are expensive. This precludes more affordable desktops from entering the market, let alone even laptops. Big endian POWER processors aren’t exactly future-proof, as Linux distributions are dropping support for them. It’s a difficult situation, but I don’t think there’s much that can be done about it.

Congress releases blockbuster tech antitrust report

The House Judiciary Committee has released its conclusions on whether Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are violating antitrust law. Its 449-page report criticizes these companies for buying competitors, preferencing their own services, and holding outsized power over smaller businesses that use their platforms. “Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” said committee member Val Demings (D-FL). “Competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account. We will take steps necessary to hold rulebreakers accountable.” The report is scathing when it comes to the major technology companies and their clear pattern of anti-competitive behaviour and antritrust abuse. Although these four corporations differ in important ways, studying their business practices has revealed common problems. First, each platform now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them. Second, each platform uses its gatekeeper position to maintain its market power. By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals, and have ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats. And, finally, these firms have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance. Whether through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct, the dominant platforms have exploited their power in order to become even more dominant. Apple, Google, Amazong, and Facebook are likened to oil barons and railroad tycoons from the American 19th century, and advises to break them up into separate entities. Countless other safeguards and measures are suggested, too, all to create and maintain a level playing field in the technology industry and sectors adjacent to it. While I have my doubts US Congress possesses the intellectual honesty and, quite frankly, grip on reality required to do anything with this report, they seem like much-needed recommendations that should’ve been implemented yesterday.

The Supreme Court is taking on Google and Oracle one last time

Ten years after Oracle first sued Google over the code in the Android platform, the two tech giants are finally facing off in the Supreme Court. Since then, there have been three trials and two appeals. Billions of dollars are at stake; many millions have been likely spent on a parade of seasoned litigators, expert witnesses, and bizarre trial exhibits intended to explain programming to non-technical juries. All this may be coming to an anticlimactic close on Wednesday morning, with a teleconference Supreme Court oral argument in the middle of a pandemic. Google must win this case. Not because Google somehow deserves it, but because Oracle and its CEO are the scum of the earth dead set on destroying the very foundations of programming.

MorphOS 3.14 and Wayfarer 1.0 released

The MorphOS development team is proud to announce the immediate availability of MorphOS 3.14. While mostly a maintenance and stability release, this update also brings multiple technological improvements in the kernel. Out of these, the most notable are TLS support in exec.library, updates to the Netstack and ixemul.library. As usual MorphOS 3.14 is free upgrade for existing users and can be downloaded from the download page. Check the changelog to find out what’s new in this release. At the same time Wayfarer, a new web browser based on a modern mid-2020 branch of WebKit is now available for download. This new browser makes it possible to browse most of the web that has become off-limits for Odyssey with its ageing engine. Google apps like Docs, Drive and Maps with Street view are supported just as the Whatsapp or Telegram web interfaces.

Definitely not Windows 95: what operating systems keep things running in space?

The ESA’s recently launched Solar Orbiter will spend years in one of the most unwelcoming places in the Solar System: the Sun. During its mission, Solar Orbiter will get 10 million kilometers closer to the Sun than Mercury. And, mind you, Mercury is close enough to have sustained temperatures reaching 450°C on its Sun-facing surface. To withstand such temperatures, Solar Orbiter is going to rely on an intricately designed heat shield. This heat shield, however, will protect the spacecraft only when it is pointed directly at the Sun—there is no sufficient protection on the sides or in the back of the probe. So, accordingly, ESA developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) for Solar Orbiter that can act under very strict requirements. The maximum allowed off-pointing from the Sun is only 6.5 degrees. Any off-pointing exceeding 2.3 degrees is acceptable only for a very brief period of time. When something goes wrong and dangerous off-pointing is detected, Solar Orbiter is going to have only 50 seconds to react. Fascinating look at a piece of software few of us will ever get to work with.