Haiku gets GIMP, Inkscape

Haiku’s latest activity report is here, and while there’s a lot of stuff in there – as usual – I think the Gtk work stands out this month. After all that work, GTK3 worked “well enough” that it seemed ready for general consumption (or at least testing), so waddlesplash committed the necessary changes to HaikuPorts for Xlibe to be packaged, and then GTK3, and then finally the first GTK3 application: Inkscape. Already, GIMP has followed closely on its tail thanks to 3dEyes (with some quick fixes to Xlibe done by waddlesplash for it), and more GTK3 applications are sure to follow once the HaikuPorts team gets caught up to speed on things. You can find screenshots on the forums of both GIMP and Inkscape running on Haiku. With that, waddlesplash has deemed the “GTK3 porting adventure” complete, and has returned to development work on Haiku’s core for this coming month. That’s a lot of progress, and two great applications to have running on Haiku.

UEFI support in ArcaOS 5.1

Development and testing of Arca Noae’s support for UEFI continues. Here’s a brief recap of how this will work in ArcaOS 5.1: When the installation media boots, if the system is determined to be in “UEFI mode” as opposed to “Legacy mode” (“Legacy” here refers to the configuration which presents a traditional PC BIOS), ArcaOS will begin the preboot process using its compatibility system. Essentially, this is a 64-bit environment which will provide a rather complete BIOS emulation for the ArcaOS kernel, including VGA services for video display. I often wonder just how hard it must be for the ArcaOS developers to work within the confines of OS/2 and what must be stringent licensing agreements and NDAs with IBM. This kind of low-level programming on OS/2 can’t be easy.

Privacy preserving attribution for advertising

Attribution is how advertisers know if their advertising campaigns are working. Attribution generates metrics that allow advertisers to understand how their advertising campaigns are performing. Related measurement techniques also help publishers understand how they are helping advertisers. Though attribution is crucial to advertising, current attribution practices have terrible privacy properties. For the last few months we have been working with a team from Meta (formerly Facebook) on a new proposal that aims to enable conversion measurement – or attribution – for advertising called Interoperable Private Attribution, or IPA. Mozilla working together with Facebook on a privacy feature. How desperate is Mozilla, exactly?

First developer preview of Android 13 released

Today, we’re sharing a first look at the next release of Android, with the Android 13 Developer Preview 1. With Android 13 we’re continuing some important themes: privacy and security, as well as developer productivity. We’ll also build on some of the newer updates we made in 12L to help you take advantage of the 250+ million large screen Android devices currently running. There’s actually quite a few cool features in here, some of which are long overdue – like a standard, system-wide photo and video picker for sharing. Share sheets in Android have become an utter mess, so any cleanup is very welcome here.

KDE Plasma 5.24 released

Today the KDE Community releases Plasma 5.24, a Long Term Support (LTS) release that will receive updates and bugfixes until the final Plasma 5 version, before we transition to Plasma 6. This new Plasma release focuses on smoothing out wrinkles, evolving the design, and improving the overall feel and usability of the environment. Highlights for this release include: a new overview effect for managing all your desktops and application windows (similar to the overview in GNOME), easy discovery of KRunner features with the help assistant, and unlocking screen and authentication using fingerprint reader. You will also notice a new Honeywave wallpaper, the ability to pick any color for UI accents, and critically important Plasma notifications now come with an orange strip on the side to visually distinguish them from less urgent messages.

Nintendo Game Processor: the lost game creation PC

The Nintendo Game Processor was a custom built computer — complete with a keyboard & mouse — that was built with one specific purpose: to visually create your own Super Nintendo games, via drag and drop, and write those games onto an actual SNES game cartridge. Although the machine was never released, the planned architecture was really interesting: two parallel systems, one console-like which executed games natively and another where the development environment resided.

GORILLA.BAS: how to play the secret MS-DOS game from your childhood

Starting in 1991, every copy of MS-DOS (and many versions of Windows) included a hidden artillery game called Gorillas. It inspired a generation of programmers and drew the ire of computer lab instructors everywhere. Here’s how it came to be—and how to play it today. I played the hell out of this as a kid. Such a simple but fun game, and the fact so many people had no idea it existed made it all the more exciting, like we had some secret knowledge especially grownups weren’t privy to.

A practical solution for GNU/Hurd’s lack of drivers: NetBSD’s rumpkernel framework

GNU/Hurd is the original Free Software operating system started in the 1980s. Its microkernel design has been evolving over the years and the project has not quite hit mainstream use. I believe this is due to one main reason: the lack of drivers for peripherals and hardware. In this talk, I explain how NetBSD kernel drivers have been reused in a microkernel setting and demonstrate their use to boot up a GNU/Hurd system via a userspace rump disk driver, with a driverless Hurd kernel, gnumach. The ACPI management, PCI management, and actual driver are in separate processes with RPC interfaces between them, which separates out their debugging, licencing concerns and execution. Hurd is a neverending story, derailed by the massive popularity and uptake of the Linux kernel as the de facto standard kernel for the GNU project. I’d love for it to become more competitive, but the situation isn’t exactly looking great.

SoftBank dumps sale of Arm over regulatory hurdles, to IPO instead

SoftBank Group Corp has shelved its blockbuster sale of Arm Ltd to U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp valued at up to $80 billion citing regulatory hurdles and will instead seek to list the company. Britain’s Arm, which named a new CEO on Tuesday, said it would go public before March 2023 and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son indicated that would be in the United States, most likely the Nasdaq. As everyone already expected.

We’re fine without Facebook, German and French ministers say

“I can confirm that life is very good without Facebook and that we would live very well without Facebook,” Le Maire added. “Digital giants must understand that the European continent will resist and affirm its sovereignty.”  The pair were responding to comments in Meta’s annual report published Thursday, warning that if it couldn’t rely on new or existing agreements to shift data, then it would “likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe.” Don’t threaten us with a good time, Zuck.

Addressing the “dark mode” weirdness on the site

As many of you have no doubt noticed, a recent bug in our CMS flipped everyone over to our experimental dark mode (along with some other quirks). We haven’t had the time to address the issue at its core yet, but for the time being, if you’re a registered user, you should be able to get light mode back now by clicking the “Revert to Light Mode” link in your right sidebar. We’ll get light mode working for non-logged-in users ASAP. I sincerely appreciate that so many people emailed us to tell us how much you hate the dark mode. Really! Let us know in the comments if you notice anything else.

How a decades-old database became a hugely profitable dossier on the health of 270 million Americans

To most Americans, the name MarketScan means nothing. But most Americans mean everything to MarketScan. As a repository of sensitive patient information, the company’s databases churn silently behind the scenes of their medical care, scooping up their most guarded secrets: the diseases they have, the drugs they’re taking, the places their bodies are broken that they haven’t told anyone but their doctor. The family of databases that make up MarketScan now include the records of a stunning 270 million Americans, or 82% of the population. The vast reach of MarketScan, and its immense value, is unmistakable. Last month, a private equity firm announced that it would pay $1 billion to buy the databases from IBM. It was by far the most valuable asset left for IBM as the technology behemoth cast off its foundering Watson Health business. Imagine how easy it would be for companies to hire only people in tip-top health, and disregard anyone with even the smallest of preexisting conditions. This data is hugely valuable to just about anyone.

IRS will soon require selfies for online access

If you created an online account to manage your tax records with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), those login credentials will cease to work later this year. The agency says that by the summer of 2022, the only way to log in to irs.gov will be through ID.me, an online identity verification service that requires applicants to submit copies of bills and identity documents, as well as a live video feed of their faces via a mobile device. That will go down well.

Installing every Arch package

Surprisingly, yes! It’s hard to judge how bad the performance really is, since it’s in a virtual machine, but all the software that I tested was definitely usable. It’s somewhat slow, but that’s exactly what you’d expect. As we used a lot of unsafe hacks (disabling dependency and file conflict checking, for instance) to get this to actually work, I wouldn’t recommend using this system for anything other than proving it’s possible. Now is this useful? The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. I can think of exactly zero uses of this experiment (and I must be pretty crazy for doing it). This is the kind of nonsense computing I can get behind.

Numerous Linux/X11 display drivers can no longer even properly build

While many Linux enthusiasts like to cite Linux’s stellar support for older hardware platforms, in reality that isn’t always the case. For instance with many old X.Org user-space mode-setting drivers for powering old graphics cards at least for display purposes, they can no longer even build with with modern toolchains/software components. Given the lack of bug reports around such issues, there are very likely few users trying some of these vintage hardware combinations. Longtime X.Org developer Alan Coopersmith of Oracle recently looked at going through all of the available X.Org drivers that aren’t in an archived state and seeing how they fare — with a goal of at least setting them up for simple continuous integration (CI) builds on GitLab. This is the inevitable result of hardware that was often already obscure and rare when it was new – let alone now, decades later. All we can hope for is a few people still carrying this hardware to donate either time or hardware to aid in keeping these drivers building and running.

Review: MNT Reform laptop has fully open hardware and software – for better or worse

But those laptops all have something in common with run-of-the-mill Windows PCs: a reliance on closed-source hardware and, often, the proprietary software and drivers needed to make it function. For some people, this is a tolerable trade-off. You put up with the closed hardware because it performs well, and it supports the standard software, development tools, and APIs that keep the computing world spinning. For others, it’s anathema—if you can’t see the source code for these “binary blobs,” they are inherently untrustworthy and should be used sparingly or not at all. The MNT Reform is a laptop for the latter group. It’s a crowdfunded, developed-in-the-open, extensively documented device that cares more about being open than it cares about literally any other aspect of the computing experience. Perhaps predictably, this makes for a laptop that is ideologically pure but functionally compromised. This ain’t it. I appreciate – as always – the effort, but this is not the way to go.

Rust-written replacement to GNU Coreutils progressing, some binaries now faster

Along with the broader industry trend of transitioning security-sensitive code to memory-safe languages like Rust, there has been an effort to write a Rust-based replacement to GNU Coreutils. For nearly a year that Rust Coreutils has been able to run a basic Debian system while more recently they have been increasing their level of GNU Coreutils compatibility and in some cases now even outperforming the upstream project. For someone like me, who isn’t a programmer, it’s difficult to really say anything meaningful when it comes to the pros and cons of individual programming languages, but on the face of it, with my limited understanding, modern languages like Rust do seem like a safer, more modern, more robust choice.

DBOS: a DBMS-oriented operating system

This paper lays out the rationale for building a completely new operating system (OS) stack. Rather than build on a single node OS together with separate cluster schedulers, distributed filesystems, and network managers, we argue that a distributed transactional DBMS should be the basis for a scalable cluster OS. We show herein that such a database OS (DBOS) can do scheduling, file management, and inter-process communication with competitive performance to existing systems. In addition, significantly better analytics can be provided as well as a dramatic reduction in code complexity through implementing OS services as standard database queries, while implementing low-latency transactions and high availability only once. I’m not even going to pretend to understand any of this.

The smart modem

I think I’ve mentioned occasionally that various devices, mostly cellular modems, just use the Hayes or AT command set. Recently I obtained a GPS tracking device (made by Queclink) that is, interestingly, fully configured via the Hayes command set. It’s an example of a somewhat newer trend of converging the functionality of IoT devices into the modem baseband. But what is this Hayes command set anyway? The Hayes command set is a fascinating piece of technology that’s been hanging around for far longer than most likely even its creators thought it would.

Windows 11 update coming next month brings Android apps to Windows

Next month we’re bringing new experiences to Windows that include a public preview of how you can use Android apps on Windows 11 through the Microsoft Store and our partnerships with Amazon and Intel, taskbar improvements with call mute and unmute, easier window sharing and bringing weather to the taskbar, plus the introduction of two new redesigned apps, Notepad and Media Player. Definitely some welcome changes for Windows users.