The most interesting addition we’ve seen in a while is rolling out to users on the experimental Dev Channel now: a modified version of the taskbar with much-improved handling of app icon overflow when users have too many apps open at once. Click an ellipsis button on your taskbar, and a new icon overflow menu opens up, allowing you to interact with any of those extra icons the same way you would if they were sitting on the taskbar. This would be a big improvement over the current overflow behavior, which devotes one icon’s worth of space to show the icon for the app you last interacted with, leaving the rest inaccessible. That icon will continue to appear on the taskbar alongside the new ellipsis icon. Microsoft says that app icons in the overflow area will be able to show jump lists and other customizable shortcuts the same as any other app icon in the taskbar. Nice little change, but it seems rather telling that they only got to this now.
The Council today gave its final approval on new rules for a fair and competitive digital sector through the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA ensures a digital level playing field that establishes clear rights and rules for large online platforms (‘gatekeepers’) and makes sure that none of them abuses their position. Regulating the digital market at EU level will create a fair and competitive digital environment, allowing companies and consumers to benefit from digital opportunities. This final approval was a formality, but you never know with corporations.
Apple’s latest slate of updates — iOS and iPadOS 15.6, macOS 12.5, watchOS 8.7, and tvOS 15.6 — are starting to show up for some users. Given the next versions of the OSes are likely due out in a few short months (and beta testers are already using them), it’s not a surprise that Wednesday’s updates are all relatively light on features. You know where to get them.
Hello Nova Community, I’m Kevin Barry, the creator of Nova Launcher. I’ve made, make and will continue to make Nova Launcher. Today I’m announcing that Branch has acquired Nova Launcher, and hired myself and Cliff Wade (Nova Community Manager). Branch has also acquired Sesame Search and hired the Sesame Crew (Steve Blackwell and Phil Wall). I’ll continue to control the direction and development of Nova Launcher, and that direction is unchanged. Nova focuses on power users and customization. I will be adding some features powered by Branch, they’ll be optional like most features in Nova. This is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve been a dedicated Nova user since… I honestly can’t even remember, and to me, Nova equals Android, and it’s always been clear Nova thoroughly and truly understood what demanding Android users were looking for. I have really never used any other launcher, and it’s the first application I install on all my Android devices. Seeing this vital application bought up by a mobile analytics form of all things is gut-wrenching. Several decades covering this industry have taught me that acquisitions like this pretty much exclusively mean doom, and usually signal a slow but steady decline in quality and corresponding increase in user-hostile features. I’m always open to being proven wrong, but I don’t have a lot of hope. In any event, I guess it’s time to find another launcher.
Carbon, the latest programming language to be built within Google, was unveiled today as an experimental successor to C++. To that end, while Carbon has many of the same goals as Rust, such as helping developers to create “performance-critical software,” Carbon is also intended to be fully interoperable with existing C++ code. Additionally, the goal is to make migrating from C++ to Carbon as easy as possible, if desired. This is not my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it to you readers to say more interesting things. The code for Carbon – not entirely sure about the name, but alright – is on github, along with more information.
Following regulation in South Korea last year and a somewhat more voluntary “User Choice Billing” in March, Google announced today that it would soon allow nongaming Android apps to offer users in Europe (European Economic Area) an alternative to Google Play’s billing system. This is in response to the Digital Markets Act, with Google saying it’s “committed to meeting these new requirements while ensuring that we can continue to keep people safe on our platforms and invest in Android and Play for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.” It’s almost like regulation works. We’ll have to wait and see if these changes are enough.
Work on this Fuchsia project within Android — dubbed “device/google/fuchsia” — stalled in February 2021, with no public indication of how things were progressing. This week, all of the code for “device/google/fuchsia” was removed from Android, formally signaling the end of this particular avenue. In its place, we have a lone “TODO” message, suggesting that Google may be building up something new in its place. The developer responsible for the change primarily works on Fuchsia’s “Starnix” project. First shared in early 2021 as a proposal, Starnix is designed to make it possible for Fuchsia to “natively” run apps and libraries that were built for Linux or Android. To do this, Starnix would act to translate the low-level kernel instructions from what Linux expects to what Fuchsia’s Zircon kernel expects. Fuchsia is still very much in flux, and stuff like this further illustrates that while I firmly believe it’s the future of Google’s consumer operating system efforts, it’s still got a long way to go.
Microsoft Validation OS is a lightweight, fast, and customizable Windows 11-based operating system that you can use on the factory floor to diagnose, mitigate and repair hardware defects during Windows device manufacturing. Validation OS boots into a Command Line environment to increase reliability on the factory floor and supports running Win32 apps, smoothing the transition from early hardware bring-up to retail OS and apps development. This is an intriguing Windows variant I’d never heard of before. Validation OS boots to a command line and sports a basic UI framework, and is supposedly capable to run Win32 applications, but if the early reports on forums are anything to go by, it’s currently quite broken and effectively useless since Win32 applications do not actually run. As such, I’m not entirely sure who or what this is for, or if this is a very early release that needs a lot more work. In any event, it’s free, so no harm done in giving it a go.
Microsoft is shifting to a new engineering schedule for Windows which will see the company return to a more traditional three-year release cycle for major versions of the Windows client, while simultaneously increasing the output of new features shipping to the current version of Windows on the market. The news comes just a year after the company announced it was moving to a yearly release cadence for new versions of Windows. According to my sources, Microsoft now intends to ship “major” versions of the Windows client every three years, with the next release currently scheduled for 2024, three years after Windows 11 shipped in 2021. Windows’ release schedule and system have become so incredibly obtuse I honestly have long ago lost track of what, exactly, has been released, which features are widely available and which are only in one or more of the testing releases, and so on. The continuously shifting plans from Microsoft do nothing but muddy the waters.
Atari 8-bit fans have long hankered after a GUI similar to GEOS on the Commodore 64. Diamond GOS went some way to addressing this deficiency, and since then there have been several creditable attempts at implementing a GUI OS on the A8. Now there’s another one in the pipeline: an as yet unnamed project which aims to bring a pre-emptive multi-tasking graphical operating system to the 8-bit Atari. This is a seriously impressive project with ambitious goals, and it looks great considering the hardware it’s running on.
Today, we’re excited to announce that ChromeOS Flex, the cloud-first, easy-to-manage, and fast operating system for PCs and Macs, is now ready for your fleet. Just like too much sun, software bloat, clunky hardware, and security vulnerabilities can cause unwanted damage. Thankfully, ChromeOS Flex is just the sunscreen your legacy devices need. And thanks to everyone who has participated in our early access program, we’ve been able to significantly improve the product in many areas while continuously certifying devices to run ChromeOS Flex. ChromeOS Flex is effectively ChromeOS for everyone who doesn’t want to buy ChromeOS hardware, based on Google’s acquisition of CloudReady. There are various community projects that offer the same, but having an official offering from Google is great for organisations and companies.
CP/M has been in a sort of legal limbo for quite a while – the code was openly available, but not through a license, but a short paragraph in an email that contained an odd piece of phrasing that wasn’t entirely clear, and could easily be misunderstood as “you can only distribute any derivative works through this one specific website”. This has now been clarified by the rights holder – DRDOS, Inc. and Bryan Sparks, president of DRDOS… In an email. However, this time the wording is a lot more clear. “Let this paragraph represent a right to use, distribute, modify, enhance, and otherwise make available in a nonexclusive manner CP/M and its derivatives. This right comes from the company, DRDOS, Inc.’s purchase of Digital Research, the company and all assets, dating back to the mid-1990’s. DRDOS, Inc. and I, Bryan Sparks, President of DRDOS, Inc. as its representative, is the owner of CP/M and the successor in interest of Digital Research assets.” This still is far from ideal, since a real license, e.g. MIT or BSD or whatever, would be easier, but at least this clears the waters quite a bit.
Recently, a friend of mine paid me a visit with a few of his ThinkPads. Over a course of a weekend, I’ve prepared a SPI flasher based on flashrom and a Raspberry Pi and flashed a few ThinkPads. Besides my rage that was mostly a result of badly written libreboot and coreboot docs (things are hard to find, a ton of the info is outdated, etc), I came up with an idea for corebooting my own X200. This is not going where you think it might be going.
In addition to the OpenChrome DRM/KMS driver hoping to be finally mainlined in 2022 for supporting aging VIA graphics hardware from the long-ago days of their x86 chipsets, separately there is a DRM/KMS kernel driver in the works for something even older… A Linux DRM graphics driver for the Atari Falcon from the early 90’s. Over the past two years a DRM driver has been in the works for the Atari graphics hardware with its built-in graphics chipset. This is not to be confused with the 2021-launched Atari VCS mini PC / game console, but the Atari Falcon personal computers out of the Atari Corporation from the early 90’s that featured Motorola 68000 series processors and a programmable video controller. It’s not yet in mainline, so it’ll be fun to see if Torvalds is up for including such an old and niche driver once it’s matured. I’ve always wanted an Atari Falcon, but they’re even more expensive than most other classic computers, so that’s most likely never going to happen.
Microsoft is still planning to block Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros by default in Office apps. The software giant rolled back planned changes last week, surprising IT admins who had been preparing for Microsoft to prevent Office users from easily enabling macros in Office files downloaded from the internet. The change, designed to improve security in Office, was supposed to go live in June before Microsoft suddenly reverted the block on June 30th. “Following user feedback, we have rolled back this change temporarily while we make some additional changes to enhance usability,” explains Kellie Eickmeyer, principal product manager at Microsoft, in a blog post update. “This is a temporary change, and we are fully committed to making the default change for all users.” It seems bonkers that in this day and age VBA macros are still a thing, but I guess the business world is quite dependent on them.
The US Justice Department is gearing up for a possible antitrust lawsuit against Google’s ad business, and a new report from The Wall Street Journal outlines a “concession” Google is proposing in response to the investigation. Google might split up some of its ad business and move it to Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The meat of the WSJ report says: “As part of one offer, Google has proposed splitting parts of its business that auctions and places ads on websites and apps into a separate company under the Alphabet umbrella, some of the people said. That entity could potentially be valued at tens of billions of dollars, depending on what assets it contained.” If the DoJ takes them up on this offer, all hope for any serious antitrust action in the US is gone.
Europeans risk seeing social media services Facebook and Instagram shut down this summer, as Ireland’s privacy regulator doubled down on its order to stop the firm’s data flows to the United States. The Irish Data Protection Commission on Thursday informed its counterparts in Europe that it will block Facebook-owner Meta from sending user data from Europe to the U.S. The Irish regulator’s draft decision cracks down on Meta’s last legal resort to transfer large chunks of data to the U.S., after years of fierce court battles between the U.S. tech giant and European privacy activists. Meta has repeatedly warned that such a decision would shutter many of its services in Europe, including Facebook and Instagram. Don’t threaten us with a good time, Zuck.
Apple filed a lawsuit against ‘Pegasus’ spyware creator NSO Group last fall and announced it would be donating $10 million+ to organizations pursuing cyber-surveillance research and advocacy. Now taking the next step in combatting sophisticated spyware, Apple has announced a brand new “extreme” security feature called iPhone Lockdown Mode – coming to iPad and Mac as well – to help protect against targeted cyber attacks. Apple detailed the brand-new iPhone Lockdown Mode that will be available to test in updated iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura betas, along with its $10 million+ grant for cybersecurity in a Newsroom post today. This seems like a really good and welcome feature, so good on Apple for working on it. That being said – I wonder if it will be available in China.
The Steam Deck is a handheld gaming computer that runs a Linux-based operating system called SteamOS. The machine comes with SteamOS 3 (code name “holo”), which is in turn based on Arch Linux. Although there is no SteamOS 3 installer for a generic PC (yet), it is very easy to install on a virtual machine using QEMU. This post explains how to do it. Exactly what it says.
On Tuesday, Parliament held the final vote on the new Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), following a deal reached between Parliament and Council on 23 April and 24 March respectively. The two bills aim to address the societal and economic effects of the tech industry by setting clear standards for how they operate and provide services in the EU, in line with the EU’s fundamental rights and values. The Digital Services Act was adopted with 539 votes in favour, 54 votes against and 30 abstentions. The Digital Markets Act – with 588 in favour, 11 votes against and 31 abstentions. The DSA and DMA will fundamentally change the way big technology companies operate, and as consumers we’ll enjoy the fruits of far less lock-in and more competition. Things like alternative application stores and sideloading on iOS, or interoperability between messaging services, are going to be amazing.