Apple shakes down WordPress, forces it to add in-app purchases so Apple can collect its 30% extortion fee

I don’t even know what to say anymore at this point. A bugfix update for the WordPress iOS application – which allows you to manage your WordPress website but does not sell anything – was blocked by Apple because WordPress.com separately also sells domain names and hosting packags, and Apple wants its 30% extortion fee, forcing the developer of this open source app to add the ability to buy WordPress domains and hosting. Is Apple seriously asking for WordPress owner Automattic to share a cut of all its domain name revenue? How would it even know which customers used the app? Was this all a mistake? Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Mullenweg tells The Verge he’s not going to fight it — he will add brand-new in-app purchases for WordPress.com’s paid tiers, which include domain names, within 30 days. Apple has agreed to allow Automattic to update the app while it waits. (The last update was issued yesterday.) In other words, Apple won: the richest company in the world just successfully forced an app developer to monetize an app so it could make more money. It’s just the latest example of Apple’s fervent attempts to guard its cash cow resulting in a decision that doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t live up to Apple’s ethos (real or imagined) of putting the customer experience ahead of all else. It’s like Apple is purposefully laying out a breadcrumb trail for antitrust investigators.

Why Did Mozilla Remove XUL Add-ons?

During the past few days, I’ve been chatting with Firefox users, trying to separate fact from rumor regarding the consequences of the August 2020 Mozilla layoffs. One of the topics that came back a few times was the removal of XUL-based add-ons during the move to Firefox Quantum. I was very surprised to see that, years after it happened, some community members still felt hurt by this choice. And then, as someone pointed out on reddit, I realized that we still haven’t taken the time to explain in-depth why we had no choice but to remove XUL-based add-ons. So, if you’re ready for a dive into some of the internals of add-ons and Gecko, I’d like to take this opportunity to try and give you a bit more detail. David Teller’s been at Mozilla for nearly 10 years, so he knows what he’s talking about. A good and detailed explanation of why Mozilla pretty much had no choice.

Moving from YouTube to PeerTube

Back when I first started posting videos, I used Vimeo. Even though YouTube was the dominant video site, I wanted to support the underdog. I even bought a Vimeo Pro account. At the time, Vimeo had higher quality video than YouTube, but nowhere near the level of discoverability. Eventually I started posting on YouTube; both new content and some reposts of my older videos. It’s 2020 and YouTube, as well as the rest of big tech, is continuing to remove content they don’t agree with from their platforms. None of my videos have ever gotten a large number of views, and none are monetized, so I might as well copy them to a PeerTube instance I control. If you do run a YouTube channel with any type of significant viewership, I highly recommend backing up your videos, in the event you may need to self-host your content in the future. Good advice, but of course not everyone has the technological acumen to do this.

The golden age of computer user groups

The Homebrew Computer Club where the Apple I got its start is deservedly famous—but it’s far from tech history’s only community gathering centered on CPUs. Throughout the 70s and into the 90s, groups around the world helped hapless users figure out their computer systems, learn about technology trends, and discover the latest whiz-bang applications. And these groups didn’t stick to Slacks, email threads, or forums; the meetings often happened IRL. But to my dismay, many young technically-inclined whippersnappers are completely unaware of computer user groups’ existence and their importance in the personal computer’s development. That’s a damned shame. Our current reality may largely be isolated to screens, but these organizations helped countless enthusiasts find community because of them. Computer groups celebrated the industry’s fundamental values: a delight in technology’s capabilities, a willingness to share knowledge, and a tacit understanding that we’re all here to help one another.  And gosh, they were fun. I wonder if we’ll ever see a rebound, the pendulum swinging back, where people who grew up in the screen age long for more personal contact and reignite the interest in these old-fashioned user groups. After the current crisis is over, of course.

Can’t you just right click?

Can you distribute Mac software over the internet without signing it, thereby avoiding Developer ID and notarization entirely? Technically, currently, yes, although Apple has indicated that a future version of macOS may not allow unsigned code to run at all. Some people claim that Mac users can “just right click” to run unsigned software. But what does that mean exactly? Let’s look at the user experience, in a series of screenshots. For illustration, I created an unsigned application, “MyGreatApp”, uploaded it to my server, and then downloaded the app with Safari on macOS 10.15.6, the latest public version of the Mac operating system. (The experience is essentially the same on the beta version of macOS Big Sur, except the new iOS style alerts look even worse.) Here’s what you see when you try to open the app normally (double click) in Finder. As a Mac developer, it’s nearly impossible to run a viable software business when this is the first-run experience of new customers. You’ll never get any new customers! This is why every Mac developer I know signs up for Developer ID and ships only signed, notarized apps. It would be financial suicide to do otherwise. Technically, the option is there to “just right click”, but practically it’s not a viable distribution option for Mac developers. From a business perspective, there’s no avoiding the Gatekeeper. For all intents and purposes, Macs and macOS are already entirely locked down and can only run software approved by Apple. macOS Big Sur on ARM Macs will make the rules even stricter – while ARM Macs can still run unsigned Intel code in the way described above, you can’t run unsigned code compiled for Apple Silicon. The screws are being tightened little by little, and just as I predicted and warned way back in 2010 with the introduction of the Mac App Store (and then again in 2011 with the introduction of sandboxing, and then again in 2012 with the introduction of Gatekeeper), we’re very close to a total lockdown of macOS, thereby completing turning the Mac into iOS – appliances you do not control and do not own. You pay a hefty sum for the mere privilege of borrowing your iOS or Mac appliance, but you don’t actually buy them.

Windows 10 now allows you to get optional and driver updates

A new feature rolling out to Windows 10 will make it easier for users to access the available driver and optional updates. In Windows 10 Build 19041.450 or newer, Microsoft said it has restored the Windows 7-era optional updates page, which allows you to discover new updates to drivers and non-security features. Windows has definitely gotten beter over the years at providing a basic set of functional drivers after a fresh installation, but it’s far from perfect, and unlocking the full potential of your hardware still requires going through a long list of hardware manufacturer websites.

Android 11 is taking away the camera picker, forcing people to only use the built-in camera

Android may have started with the mantra that developers are allowed to do anything as long as they can code it, but things have changed over the years as security and privacy became higher priorities. Every major update over the last decade has shuttered features or added restrictions in the name of protecting users, but some sacrifices may not have been entirely necessary. Another Android 11 trade-off has emerged, this time taking away the ability for users to select third-party camera apps to take pictures or videos on behalf of other apps, forcing users to rely only on the built-in camera app. They’re small changes, but they’ve been adding up over the years to make Android less and less desirable. Sadly, there’s really no other viable option, so we’re stuck with it.

Apple threatens to terminate Epic’s access to iOS and Mac developer tools

Apple will terminate Epic’s inclusion in the Apple Developer Program, a membership that’s necessary to distribute apps on iOS devices or use Apple developer tools, if the company does not “cure your breaches” to the agreement within two weeks, according to a letter from Apple that was shared by Epic. Epic won’t be able to notarize Mac apps either, a process that could make installing Epic’s software more difficult or block it altogether. Apple requires that all apps are notarized before they can be run on newer versions of macOS, even if they’re distributed outside the App Store. Epic has filed for a preliminary injunction against Apple, asking the court to stop the company from cutting it off. Epic says it will be “irreparably harmed long before final judgment comes” if it does not obtain the injunction. “Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business,” Epic writes. Epic also asks for Fortnite — with its lowered prices and alternate payment option — to be returned to the App Store. A bully is bad. A self-righteous bully surrounded by an internal and external army of yes-men is a million times worse. I sadly don’t expect much from the United States Congress, but I hope the European Commission is keeping very close tabs on Apple’s abusive anti-consumer behaviour here. And the general reminder: you might’ve paid a grand for your iPhone, but it really isn’t your iPhone. It’s Apple’s, and they, and only they, get to decide how you use it.

Sources: Mozilla extends its Google search deal

Mozilla and Google have extended their current search deal for another three years, multiple sources have told ZDNet. The new search deal will ensure Google remains the default search engine provider inside the Firefox browser until 2023 at an estimated price tag of around $400 million to $450 million per year. Mozilla officials are expected to announce the search deal’s extension later this fall, in November, when the organization is scheduled to disclose its 2019 financial figures. This is definitely good news in terms of Firefox’ continued existence, but the uncertainty every time the deal is about to run out illustrates once again that this situation is entirely untenable. I have no idea how to solve this problem, but my wildest idea is large open source projects like major Linux distributions, GNOME, KDE, and so on, taking an active interest in investing manpower and other resources into ensuring Firefox remains the independent browser for Linux and BSD users. God forbid I have to use Chrome.

SpaceX Starlink speeds revealed as beta users get downloads of 11 to 60Mbps

Beta users of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service are getting download speeds ranging from 11Mbps to 60Mbps, according to tests conducted using Ookla’s speedtest.net tool. Speed tests showed upload speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 18Mbps. The same tests, conducted over the past two weeks, showed latencies or ping rates ranging from 31ms to 94ms. This isn’t a comprehensive study of Starlink speeds and latency, so it’s not clear whether this is what Internet users should expect once Starlink satellites are fully deployed and the service reaches commercial availability. We asked SpaceX several questions about the speed-test results yesterday and will update this article if we get answers. For what is essentially still a service in development, this is pretty impressive.

The Intel Xe-LP GPU architecture deep dive: building up the next generation

As part of today’s Intel Architecture Day, Intel is devoting a good bit of its time to talking about the company’s GPU architecture plans. Though not a shy spot for Intel, per-se, the company is still best known for its CPU cores, and the amount of marketing attention they’ve put into the graphics side of their business has always been a bit weaker as a result. But, like so many other things at Intel, times are changing – not only is Intel devoting ever more die real estate to GPUs, but over the next two years they are transitioning into a true third player in the PC GPU space, launching their first new discrete GPU in several generations. As part of Intel’s previously-announced Xe GPU architecture, the company intends to become a top-to-bottom GPU provider. This means offering discrete and integrated GPUs for everything from datacenters and HPC clusters to high-end gaming machines and laptops. This is a massive expansion for a company whom for the last decade has only been offering integrated GPUs, and one that has required a lot of engineering to get here. But, at long last, after a couple of years of talking up Xe and laying out their vision, Xe is about to become a reality for Intel’s customers. While we’ll focus on different Xe-related announcements in separate articles – with this one focusing on Xe-LP – let’s quickly recap the state of Intel’s Xe plans, what’s new as of today, and where Xe-LP fits into the bigger picture. AnandTech dives into the first pillar of Intel’s GPU plans – integrated graphics and entry-level dedicated GPUs. The other two pillars – high-end enthusiast use/datacenter, and HPC – will be covered in other AnandTech articles.

Epic offers new direct payment in Fortnite on iOS and Android to get around app store fees

Update 3: Google also kicked Fortnite off the Play Store, but since Android isn’t locked down, you can just get it straight from Epic instead. Update 2: Remember Apple’s iconic 1984 ad for the original Macintosh? Epic sure did. This is some 12D chess being played by Epic – they knew exactly how Apple would respond. Epic is filing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple. Update: Apple has kicked Fortnite out of the App Store. Original story: Epic, the company behind the Unreal Engine, Jazz Jackrabbit, and Fortnite, has been a vocal critic of Apple’s App Stpre policies. Now, though, with the latest Fortnite update, the company is going straight for the jugular, starting a very intense staring contest with Apple. On both iOS and Android, Epic has introduced a new direct payment option. If you purchase V-bucks or anything else in the game through either the App Store or Google Play Store, it will cost the same as always. But the new direct option comes with the discount; when you select it, the game sends you to a payment screen where you can choose either a credit card or PayPal. “Currently, there are no savings if players use Apple and Google payment options, where Apple and Google collect an exorbitant 30 percent fee on all payments,” Epic says. “If Apple and Google lower their fees on payments, Epic will pass along the savings to players.” (You can check out a list of supported countries here.) The new direct payment option circumvents Apple’s App Store rules, which mandate that you can only use Apple’s payment system and must hand over 30% of revenue to Apple. This breaks various App Store rules, and forces Apple to either accept Epic’s circumvention, which would effectively mean the end of this rule, or kick Fortnite, one of the biggest and most popular games in the world, off iOS, thereby angering dozens of millions of players and giving antitrust regulators a lot of ammo. Combined with Apple blocking Microsoft’s xCloud, that’s easily about 100 million people – mobile Fortnite players and Xbox players – that just rean head-first into Apple’s rules. This is an amazing Mexican standoff, and I can’t wait to see how it develops.

Intel making progress on their “mOS” modified Linux kernel running lightweight kernels

For a while now Intel has been quietly been working on “mOS” as the “multi-OS” that is a modified version of the Linux kernel that in turn is running lightweight kernels for high-performance computing purposes. Intel mOS has been seldom talked about (or incredibly rare, based on public searches) as it’s still largely a research project but showing much potential in the area of high performance computing for delivering better scalability and reliability of HPC workloads. In fact, mOS can already be used on some supercomputers like ASCI Red, IBM Blue Gene, and others. I indeed had never heard of this project before. Interesting.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo arrives on September 10th for $1399

Microsoft has put the Surface Duo up for preorder. While Microsoft had revealed the design of the Surface Duo back in October, the company has kept the specs relatively secret. The device includes two separate 5.6-inch OLED displays (1800 x 1350) with a 4:3 aspect ratio that connect together to form a 8.1-inch overall workspace (2700 x 1800) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unlike foldables like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo is using real Gorilla Glass, and the displays are designed to work in a similar way to multiple monitors on a Windows PC. One big question over the Surface Duo has been the camera. Microsoft is using an 11-megapixel f/2.0 camera, which will include auto modes for low light, HDR multi-frame captures, and a “super zoom” up to 7x. Both 4K and 1080p video recording will be supported at 30fps and 60fps, with electronic image stabilization. There’s only a single camera on the Surface Duo, which can be used both for video calls and as a main camera. The basic Surface Duo hardware also consists of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of storage. LTE is available on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, but there’s no 5G support at all. Microsoft is also shipping a bumper cover in the box, designed to protect the Duo. That’s a lot of money for what are last year’s specifications, especially regarding the camera and SoC. Sure, this is a new kind of device category, but I have a hard time seeing any mass-market appeal in a device like this matched with such a high price.

GhostBSD 20.08.04 released

I am happy to announce the availability of GhostBSD 20.08.04. This release comes with kernel, OS and software application updates. We updated the MATE desktop to 1.24.0. A new interesting feature is the boot environment backup before updates. GhostBSD is one of the few desktop-oriented BSD ‘distributions’, and it’s based on FreeBSD.

Mozilla fires 250 employees in restructuring

Today we announced a significant restructuring of Mozilla Corporation. This will strengthen our ability to build and invest in products and services that will give people alternatives to conventional Big Tech. Sadly, the changes also include a significant reduction in our workforce by approximately 250 people. These are individuals of exceptional professional and personal caliber who have made outstanding contributions to who we are today. To each of them, I extend my heartfelt thanks and deepest regrets that we have come to this point. This is a humbling recognition of the realities we face, and what is needed to overcome them. I feel for the 250 laid off employees – that always sucks and I hope they will be able to find a new job quickly. That being said, I have no idea what to make of this corporate speak word soup, and it’s hard to parse what, exactly, is going to change from here on out. There’s nothing concrete here, no announcements, no goals or targets – just vague evergreen wording. There’s hints that the deal with Google – wherein Google contributes about 90% of Mozilla’s revenue to be the default search engine in Firefox – might expire and not be renewed at the end of this year, which would effectively cut all of Mozilla’s revenue off. That will be an immense shock, and it could easily spell the end of the Mozilla Foundation in its current form – and thus the continued viability of Firefox.

E Ink demos a folding e-reader that can also take notes

Folding smartphones are slowly making their way into the mainstream. Could foldable e-readers be next? The E Ink Corporation, the company behind the digital paper tech found in the majority of e-readers, is trying to make it happen. The firm’s R&D lab has been developing foldable e-ink screens for a while, and its latest prototype clearly demonstrates the idea’s potential. This feels like such a natural fit for an e-reader. A foldable e-reader mimics a real book a lot more accurately than a regular portrait display does, and can potentially reduce the amount of times you have to perform a digital page flip. Still nowhere near a real book, of course, but a tiny step closer nonetheless.

Windows 10 2004’s new Hosted App Model is pretty great

Microsoft has a long history of innovations which never really went anywhere, but with the new Hosted App Model on Windows 10 the company may just have hit it out of the ballpark. Microsoft introduced the Hosted App Model in Windows 10 2004 ie. the Windows 10 May 2020 Update, and the technology already appears set to solve a wide variety of problems for both Microsoft and end-users. In the Hosted App Model, an app can declare itself as a host for other applications, while allowing those applications to retain their identity as independent apps. It does seem like a neat technology.

Microsoft signals renewed interest in Windows with latest reshuffle

The Verge reports: The software giant placed Surface chief Panos Panay in charge of Windows earlier this year, and is now reshuffling parts of that team. It follows Microsoft’s decision to slice Windows into two parts more than two years ago after the departure of former Windows chief Terry Myerson. Microsoft moved core Windows development to a cloud and AI team (Azure), and created a new group to work on Windows 10 “experiences” like apps, the Start menu, and new features. Now, Microsoft is moving parts of Windows development back under Panos Panay’s control. Specifically, that means the Windows fundamentals and developer experience teams have been returned to what we traditionally call the Windows team. It’s an admission that the big Windows split didn’t work quite as planned. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of that with a messy development experience for Windows 10, delayed Windows updates, a lack of major new features, and lots of Windows update issues recently. That’s a lot of reshuffling, but I wonder what the purpose of it all really is. It seems most Windows users want Windows to just be… Windows. They don’t want ‘modern’ apps forced upon them, they don’t want touch-optimised user interfaces, they don’t want application stores, and they certainly don’t want Windows anywhere else but their desktops and laptops. How much freedom to push the Windows platform forward do you really have when all users want is to run the same set of Win32 applications in perpetuity? They’ve tried creating a version of Windows only capable of running ‘modern’ apps, and it failed – twice (and a third attempt is on the way). They tried combining the two into one with an adaptable UI – and everybody hated it. They’ve been trying to just kind of coast by on Windows 10, and as the above article notes, it’s been quite problematic. They’ve tried to put full Windows on phones – twice! – and nobody wanted that either. What other options remain?