Thom Holwerda Archive

IceWM 3.5.0 released

IceWM, the venerable window manager we’ve all used at some point in our lives, has released a new version, 3.5.0. It’s a relatively minor release, so you’ve got things like a new install option which will install an extra theme, a fix for porting to NetBSD 10, translation updates, and more such small improvements. The AddressBar, a command line in the taskbar that can be summoned with ctrl+alt+space, also got some love, with file argument completion and support for the cd and pwd commands. You can compile IceWM yourself, of course, but it’ll most likely find its way into your distribution’s repository quickly enough.

Google just updated its algorithm, and the Internet will never be the same

But Google results are a zero-sum game. If the search engine sends traffic to one site, it has to take it from another, and the effects on the losers in this Reddit equation are just as dramatic. “Google’s just committing war on publisher websites,” Ray says. “It’s almost as if Google designed an algorithm update to specifically go after small bloggers. I’ve talked to so many people who’ve just had everything wiped out,” she says. A number of website owners and search experts who spoke to the BBC said there’s been a general shift in Google results towards websites with big established brands, and away from small and independent sites, that seems totally disconnected from the quality of the content. ↫ Thomas Germain at the BBC These stories are coming out left, right, and centre now – and the stories are heartbreaking. Websites that publish truly quality content with honest, valuable, real reviews are now not only having to combat the monster of Google’s own creation – SEO spam websites – but also Google itself, who has started downranking them in favour of fucksmith on Reddit. Add to that the various “AI” boxes and answers Google is adding to its site, and the assault on quality content is coming from all angles. I don’t look at our numbers or traffic sources, since I don’t want to be influenced by any of that stuff. I don’t think OSNews really lives or dies by a constant flow of Google results, but if we do, there’s really not much I can do about it anyway. Google Search once gaveth, and ever since that fateful day it’s mostly been Google Search taketh. I can’t control it, so I’m not going to worry about it. All I can do is keep the site updated, point out we really do need your support on Patreon and Ko-Fi – to keep OSNews running, and perhaps maybe ever going ad-free entirely – and hope for the best. I do feel for the people who still make quality content on the web, though – especially people like the ones mentioned in the linked BBC article, who set up an entire business around honest, quality reviews of something as mundane as air purifiers. It must be devastating to see all you’ve worked for destroyed by SEO spam, fucksmith on Reddit, and answers from an “AI” high on crack.

After you die, your Steam games will be stuck in legal limbo

It turns out that digital rights management and its consequences extend even beyond your passing when it comes to Steam. Valve has made it clear that no, you cannot will your Steam account or games to someone else when you die. The issue of digital game inheritability gained renewed attention this week as a ResetEra poster quoted a Steam support response asking about transferring Steam account ownership via a last will and testament. “Unfortunately, Steam accounts and games are non-transferable” the response reads. “Steam Support can’t provide someone else with access to the account or merge its contents with another account. I regret to inform you that your Steam account cannot be transferred via a will.” ↫ Kyle Orland at Ars Technica My wife and I make sure we know each other’s passwords and login credentials to the most important accounts and services in our lives, since an accident can happen at any time, and we’d like to be somewhat prepared – as much as you can be, under the circumstances – for if something happens. I never even considered merging Steam accounts, but at least granting access to the person named in your will or your legal heir seems like something a service like Steam should be legally obliged to do. I don’t think Steam’s position here – which is probably par for the course – is tenable in the long-term. Over the coming years and decades, we’re going to see more and more people who grew up almost entirely online pass away, leaving behind various accounts, digital purchases, and related matters, and loved ones and heirs will want access to those. At some point over the coming decades, there’s going to be a few high-profile cases in the media about something like this, and it’s going to spur lawmakers into drafting up legislation to make account and digital goods transfers to heirs and loved ones not a courtesy, but a requirement. In the meantime, if you have a designated heir, like your children, a spouse, or whatever, make sure they can somehow gain access to your accounts and digital goods, by writing stuff down on paper and putting it somewhere safe or something similar. Again – you never know when you might… Expire.

Microsoft open-sources GW-BASIC

These sources, as clearly stated in the repo’s readme, are the 8088 assembly language sources from 10th Feb 1983, and are being open-sourced for historical reference and educational purposes. This means we will not be accepting PRs that modify the source in any way. ↫ Rich Turner I’m loving all these open source releases from Microsoft, but honestly, I’d wish the pace was a little higher and we’d get to some more recent stuff. Open sourcing early versions of MS-DOS and related software is obviously great from a software preservation standpoint, but at this rate we’ll get to more influential pieces of software by the time the sun experiences its helium flash. On a related note, about a month ago Microsoft released the source code to MS-DOS 4.00. Well, we’ve now also got access to the code for MS-DOS 4.01, a bugfix release that came out very quickly after 4.00. Due to various bugs, DOS 4.00 was a relatively short-lived release, and it was replaced by DOS 4.01 just a couple of months later. Howard M. Harte (hharte), who already fixed various flaws in the official source code release of MS-DOS 4.00, managed to figure out the differences between DOS 4.00 and 4.01 — we now have access to the improved version as well! ↫ Lothar Serra Mari We’re getting a pretty complete picture of early MS-DOS source code.

iFixit ends its collaboration with Samsung

iFixit is ending its collaboration with Samsung, as iFixit claims the Korean giant is not actually interested in offering repair options at all. As we tried to build this ecosystem we consistently faced obstacles that made us doubt Samsung’s commitment to making repair more accessible. We couldn’t get parts to local repair shops at prices and quantities that made business sense. The part prices were so costly that many consumers opted to replace their devices rather than repair them. And the design of Samsung’s Galaxy devices remained frustratingly glued together, forcing us to sell batteries and screens in pre-glued bundles that increased the cost. ↫ Scott Head Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me. Unless right to repair legislation becomes more widespread and stricter, corporations will inevitably drag their feet in honouring any right to repair commitments and promises they make.

Writing a Unix clone in about a month

I needed a bit of a break from “real work” recently, so I started a new programming project that was low-stakes and purely recreational. On April 21st, I set out to see how much of a Unix-like operating system for x86_64 targets that I could put together in about a month. The result is Bunnix. Not including days I didn’t work on Bunnix for one reason or another, I spent 27 days on this project. ↫ Drew DeVault Bunnix’ creator, Drew DeVault, has quite a bit of experience with writing operating systems, as they’re also the creator of Helios, an experimental microkernel operating system. Bunnix is remarkably capable for a 30-day project, and comes with support for both BIOS and UEFI boot, and it’ll boot on real hardware too. It doesn’t have USB support though, so if you’re going the real hardware route, you’ll need to take that into account for mouse and keyboard input. Bunnix has a relatively solid set of drivers, taking the short development time into account: among other things, there’s PCI, AHCI block devices, serial ports, framebuffers, and ext4 support. The kernel supports a virtual filesystem, a /dev filled with block devices, a terminal emulator, and more. Bunnix is single-user for now, so it doesn’t enforce file permissions, but DeVault states it should be relatively easy to implement multiuser support. A unique characteristic of Bunnix is that’s written mostly in Hare, complemented by some C. Hare is a relatively new programming language, which we touched on late last year when it was ported to OpenBSD. Implementing file systems proved to be one of the difficulties during development, partly due to Hare. I also learned a lot about mixing source languages into a Hare project, since the kernel links together Hare, assembly, and C sources – it works remarkably well but there are some pain points I noticed, particularly with respect to building the ABI integration riggings. It’d be nice to automate conversion of C headers into Hare forward declaration modules. Some of this work already exists in hare-c, but has a ways to go. If I were to start again, I would probably be more careful in my design of the filesystem layer. ↫ Drew DeVault DeVault’s post about Bunnix gives a lot more insight into the development of Bunnix, so I’d highly suggest to head on over to read more. Do note that DeVault considers Bunnix “done”, in the sense that the learning experience is over, and aside from a few random developments here and there, they won’t be doing any work on it anymore.

Bing went down, and lots of people discovered alternative search engines are whitelabel versions of Bing

It turns out way fewer people knew search engines like DuckDuckGo are just whitelabel versions of Microsoft Bing than I thought. Today, in most of Europe and Asia, search engines like DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Qwant, other alternative search engines, ChatGPT internet search, and even Windows Copilot were all down. It turns out the culprit was Microsoft Bing; and when Microsoft Bing goes down, everyone who uses it goes down too. Alternative search engines often try to be vague about their whitelabel status, or even outright hide it altogether. Bing is a popular search engine for whitelabeling, so when Bing goes down, almost the entire house of cards of alternative search engines comes tumbling down as well. DuckDuckGo, for instance, places a lot of emphasis on using specialised search engines like TripAdvisor and direct sources like Sportradar or Wikipedia, as well as its own crawler and other indexes. However, as we saw today, as soon as Bing goes down, DuckDuckGo just stops working entirely. DDG happens to be my main search engine – a case of less shit than everyone else – so all throughout the day I was met with the error message “There was an error displaying the search results. Please try again.” I don’t begrudge DDG or other search engines for repackaging Bing search results – building a truly new search engine and running it is incredibly hard, costly, and you’ll always be lagging behind – but I was surprised by how many people didn’t know just how common this practice really was. My Fediverse feeds were filled with people surprised to learn they’d been using Bing all along, just wrapped in a nicer user interface and with some additional features.

Building a Psion/EPOC32 emulator

In which I build WindEmu, an emulator for the Psion Series 5mx (a PDA from 1999 running EPOC – the OS that would become Symbian), over the course of just over a week, without access to the actual hardware. Yet another cursed project. ↫ Ash Wolf I had never seen this before, even though it’s from 2019. You can load the emulator in your browser and use EPOC32 as if it’s running on the real thing, and I have to say it feel remarkably realistic for a project completed in a little over a week. Of course, it may have been tweaked and improved over the years since 2019, but I don’t know by how much. The last GitHub commit was five years ago, so it seems there really hasn’t been much public work done on it since. An emulator like this is probably the closest most of us will get to the later devices from Psion, since as with all retrocomputing platforms, the number of working devices is rapidly dwindling, and prices for working examples on sites like eBay have gone through the roof.

Google pays $60 million to tell users to eat glue

Google’s new search feature, AI Overviews, seems to be going awry. The tool, which gives AI-generated summaries of search results, appeared to instruct a user to put glue on pizza when they searched “cheese not sticking to pizza.” ↫ Jyoti Mann at Business Insider Google’s “artificial intelligence” is literally just parroting a joke Reddit comment from 11 years ago by a person named fucksmith. Google is paying Reddit 60 million dollars for this privilege. “AI” is going just great.

Cortile: auto-tiling manager that runs on top of your current window manager for X11

Linux auto tiling manager with hot corner support for Openbox, Fluxbox, IceWM, Xfwm, KWin, Marco, Muffin, Mutter and other EWMH compliant window managers using the X11 window system. Therefore, this project provides dynamic tiling for XFCE, LXDE, LXQt, KDE and GNOME (Mate, Deepin, Cinnamon, Budgie) based desktop environments. Simply keep your current window manager and install cortile on top of it. Once enabled, the tiling manager will handle resizing and positioning of existing and new windows. ↫ Cortile GitHub page I’ve always been mildly interested in trying out a proper tiling window manager – of which are millions – but installing and setting up an entirely new environment always felt a bit like overkill for something I’m just curious about instead of actually intending to use it permanently. This seems like a great solution to this issue.

Microsoft Recall takes constant screenshots of everything you do

About a month ago we talked about the rumours, but now the feature’s officially announced: Microsoft is going to keep track of everything you do on your Windows machine by taking a constant stream of screenshots, and then making said screenshots searchable by using things like text and image recognition. As you might expect, this is a privacy nightmare, and the details and fine print accompanying this new feature do not exactly instill confidence. First, the feature is a lot dumber than you might expect, as it doesn’t perform any “content moderation”, as Microsoft calls it. Note that Recall does not perform content moderation. It will not hide information such as passwords or financial account numbers. That data may be in snapshots that are stored on your device, especially when sites do not follow standard internet protocols like cloaking password entry. ↫ Privacy and control over your Recall experience Well, Microsoft says Recall doesn’t do any content moderation, but that’s actually a flat-out lie. Recall will not show any content with DRM that happens to be on your screen, and private browsing sessions in Chromium-based browsers won’t be shown either. You can also exclude specific applications and websites – filtering websites, however, is only available in Edge. In other words, managing this privacy nightmare is entirely left up to the user… Except for DRM content, of course. The mouse must be pleased, after all. It also seems Microsoft is enabling this feature by default for at least some business users, as machines managed with Microsoft Intune will have Recall enabled by default, and administrators will need to use Group Policy to disable it. There is no way in hell any company serious about data security will want Recall enabled, so I guess this can be added to the pile of headaches administrators already have to deal with. My biggest worry is the usual slippery slope this feature represents. How long before governments will legally require a feature like this on all our computers? The more Microsoft and other companies brag about how easy and low-power stuff like this is, the more governments – already on the warpath when it comes to things like encrypted messaging – will want their hands on this. This is such a bad idea.

Dell continues to base its ThinOS client operating system on FreeBSD

Several Dell products use ThinOS 9, such as the OptiPlex 3000 Thin Client, the OptiPlex All-In-One, and the Latitude series laptops, such as the Latitude 3440 and 5440. ThinOS is a ready-to-deploy solution that aims to improve virtual desktops while offering a secure platform for applications and services. It provides users with a seamless and integrated experience, whether remotely or from the office. It’s a software environment that optimizes virtual workspaces. The latest version, ThinOS 9, is built on FreeBSD 12 with other 3rd-party open source components and is well-known for its robust security and stability. This aligns with the requirements of modern enterprises that demand high performance and protection in their computing solutions. ↫ Dell case study While Dell and FreeBSD call this a ‘case study’ but while I see plenty of case, I see little study – it’s mostly just a load of marketing speak. That being said, there’s still interesting news in here about the future of ThinOS. The next release of ThinOS, version 10, will make the jump from FreeBSD 12 to the current FreeBSD 14 release, drastically improving hardware support in the process, while also bringing in the various other benefits of the latest FreeBSD release. It will also improve ThinOS’ compatibility with Linux applications, a feature of FreeBSD, which is something Dell is keen to highlight. It should come as no surprise that ThinOS 10 will also improve its security features, probably also mostly coming along for the ride from FreeBSD 14. Dell also mentions that it intends to continue using FreeBSD as the base for ThinOS, which could’ve easily gone differently as part of Dell’s acquisition of Wyze, where ThinOS originally comes from. This is good news for FreeBSD, but at the same time, when I look at thin clients on Dell’s website, ThinOS is just one of the options, and every photo shows the devices running Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC 2021. I genuinely wonder what the spread is between buyers opting for ThinOS, Windows, and Linux. Thin clients have always fascinated me, so perhaps I should go onto eBay, figure out which Dell thin clients are still supported by the latest ThinOS release, buy one, and set up a simple thin client environment in my home – using ThinOS, of course.

Microsoft adds Dev Drive block cloning to Windows

At the heart of developer productivity lies improving performance for developer workloads on Windows. Last year at Build, we announced Dev Drive a new storage volume tailor-made for developers and supercharged for performance and security. Since then, we have continued to invest further in Windows performance improvements for developer workloads.   With the release of Windows 11 24H2, workflows will get even faster when developing on a Dev Drive. Windows copy engine now has Filesystem Block Cloning, resulting in nearly instantaneous copy actions and drastically improving performance, especially in developer scenarios that copy large files. ↫ Pavan Davuluri on the Windows blog Sounds like a near and meaningful improvement.

How to make Google’s new “Web” search option the default in your browser

Last week, Google unveiled a new little feature in Google Search, called “Web”. Residing alongside the various other options like “All”, “Images”, “Video”, and so on, its goal is to effectively strip Google Search results from everything we generally don’t like, and just present a list of actual links to actual websites. It turns out it’s quite simple to set this as your default search “engine” in your browser, so somebody made a website to make that process a little easier. On May 15th Google released a new “Web” filter that removes “AI Overview” and other clutter, leaving only traditional web results. Here is how you can set “Google Web” as your default search engine. ↫ TenBlueLinks.org It’s important to note that this is not some separate search engine, and that no data is flowing any differently than when using regular Google. All this does is append the parameter UDM=14 to the URL, which loads the option “Web”.

noTunes: a macOS application to prevent iTunes or Apple Music from launching

noTunes is a macOS application that will prevent iTunes or Apple Music from launching. Simply launch the noTunes app and iTunes/Music will no longer be able to launch. For example, when bluetooth headphones reconnect. You can toggle the apps functionality via the menu bar icon with a simple left click. ↫ noTunes GitHub page Apparently, this is such a common complaint that an application had to be made just to gain some semblance of control over what some people still refer to as “their” computer. For both macOS and Windows, there’s a giant industry – you can’t really call it a cottage industry anymore at this point – of tools, applications, and fixes just to deal with or avoid all the user-hostile, anti-choice garbage Apple and Microsoft shove into their respective operating systems. As a Linux user – and recent OpenBSD convert – I find this absolutely wild. Following any Apple podcast, or reading any Windows website, makes it so clear just how many hoops these people have to jump through and how many weirdly-shaped holes they have to contort into just to be able to gain some vague semblance of ownership of their own hardware. I’m not judging – we all have areas in our lives where we do this, they just differ from person to person – but it’s still confronting to see it so clearly, all the time.

Scarlett Johansson says she is ‘shocked, angered’ over new ChatGPT voice

Lawyers for Scarlett Johansson are demanding that OpenAI disclose how it developed an AI personal assistant voice that the actress says sounds uncannily similar to her own. Johansson’s legal team has sent OpenAI two letters asking the company to detail the process by which it developed a voice the tech company dubbed “Sky,” Johansson’s publicist told NPR in a revelation that has not been previously reported. ↫ Bobby Allyn at NPR This story highlights just how much disdain techbros have for the work of creative people. Here’s the timeline: Techbros like Sam Altman deeply despise and undervalue the work of creatives, believing human creativity to be merely an equation to be solved, definable by an algorithm. To people like him, creative work has no value, and as such, is up for grabs to be taken and cut up for his algorithms to spit out as “new” works. This story highlights this perfectly. The sleaze runs deep with Altman and OpenAI.

Xeon Phi support removed in GCC 15 compiler

Last week I wrote about Intel aiming to remove Xeon Phi support in GCC 15 with the products being end-of-life and deprecated in GCC 14. While some openly wondered whether the open-source community would allow it given the Xeon Phi accelerators were available to buy just a few years ago and at some very low prices going back years so some potentially finding use still out of them especially during this AI boom (and still readily available to buy used for around ~$50 USD), today the Intel Xeon Phi support was indeed removed. ↫ Michael Larabel Xeon Phi PCIe cards are incredibly cheap on eBay, and every now and then my mouse hovers over the buy button – but I always realise just in time that the cards have become quite difficult to use, since support for them, already sparse to begin with, is only getting worse by the day. Support for them was already removed in Linux 5.10, and now GCC is pulling he plug too, so the only option is to keep using old kernels, or pass the card on to a VM running an older Linux kernel version, which is a lot of headache for what is essentially a weird toy for nerds at this point. GCC 15 will also, sadly, remove support for Itanium, which, as I’ve said before, is a huge disgrace and a grave mistake. Itanium is the future, and will stomp all over crappy architectures like x86 and ARM. With this deprecation, GCC relegates itself to the dustbin of history.

Modernizing the AntennaPod code structure

AntennaPod has been around for a long time – the first bit of code was published in 2011. Since then, the app has grown massively and had several main developers. The beauty of open-source is that so many people can contribute and make a great app together. But sometimes having many people work on a project can lead to different ways of thinking about how to structure the project. Because of this, AntennaPod gradually grew to have a number of weird code constructs. Our latest release, version 3.4, fixes this. ↫ ByteHamster The AntennaPod team had an incredible task ahead of itself, and while it took them a few years, they pulled it off. The code structure graphs from before and after the code restructuring illustrate better than words ever could what they achieved. Thy changed 10000 lines of source code in 62 pull requests for this restructuring alone, while still adding new major features in the meantime. Pretty incredible.

Microsoft gives Windows new compiler, kernel, scheduler, and x86 translation layer on ARM

Microsoft’s developer conference Build is taking place this week, so there’s been some major Windows news and announcements, and for once – we’re not talking about more ads in your operating system, or even “AI” shoehorned into, I don’t know, Phone Dialer or Windows Fax and Scan. First and foremost, Windows is going to get a new compiler, kernel, and scheduler, but despite such massive low-level changes, the marketing version number won’t jump from 11 to 12. Of course, we all know the marketing version number has nothing to do with the actual Windows NT version number, which currently sits at 10. The Windows NT version number, meanwhile, is actually also meaningless, since it magically jumps around left and right too, going from 6.2 to 10 between Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, where it has stayed ever since. “We really focused on modernizing this update of Windows 11,” said Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Windows and Devices Pavan Davuluri at a technical briefing on Microsoft’s campus in mid-April. “We engineered this update of Windows 11 with a real focus on AI inference and taking advantage of the Arm64 instruction set at every layer of the operating system stack. For us, what this meant really was building a new compiler in Windows. We built a new kernel in Windows on top of that compiler. We now have new schedulers in the operating system that take advantage of these new SoC architecture.” ↫ Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica The focus is clearly on ARM here, which coincides with the launch of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite, a new SoC that finally seems to truly make ARM laptops that aren’t from Apple a real, competitive thing – so much so that Qualcomm is even breaking with tradition and taking Linux support very seriously for this new chip. Microsoft also unveiled the name for its new x86 translation layer for Windows on ARM: Prism. Microsoft told Ars Technica that Prism is as fast as Apple’s Rosetta 2, which is interesting because Apple’s M series chips contain special silicon to speed up the translation process, making me wonder if Qualcomm has done the same, or is just brute-forcing it. Performance like this means the apps customers love work great. Microsoft has partnered closely with developers across the globe to optimize their applications for this processor. In addition, the powerful new Prism emulation engine delivers a 2x performance boost compared to Surface Pro 9 with 5G. On the new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, powered by Snapdragon X Elite and Snapdragon X Plus processors, experiences like Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft 365 and Chrome will feel snappy, quick and responsive. ↫ Pete Kyriacou on the Windows blog The new Windows on ARM machines using the Snapdragon X Elite will be marketed under the new Copilot+ brand name, which brings with it some requirements, the biggest of which is the neural processing unit: it must be capable of at least 40 trillion operations per second. At the time of writing, the only Windows-capable processor that can boast such numbers is, of course, the new Snapdragon X Elite. AMD and Intel need not apply. They simply cannot match this. Microsoft tied a bow on all this stuff by unveiling the new Surface Pro and new Surface Laptop, both powered by the new Snapdragon SoCs. You can preorder them today, but they won’t be available until 18 June.

KDE Plasma 6 comes to OpenBSD

Last year marked a significant milestone for both myself and the OpenBSD desktop community, as we successfully ported KDE Plasma 5 and all dependencies to OpenBSD. With the release of OpenBSD 7.5 on April 5, 2024, KDE Plasma in version 5.27.10 has become a part of our lovely operating system. This success is the result of years of development work and commitment to achieving this goal. KDE launched version 6 of its Plasma desktop environment on February 28, 2024, bringing numerous updates and features as well as the major switch to Qt6. I am immensely proud that the OpenBSD team has managed to prepare for this major update so swiftly. All necessary components have been committed to our CVS tree, and the packages will soon be available. ↫ Rafael Sadowski Excellent news for OpenBSD users who don’t wish to be using GNOME, Xfce, or one of the smaller build-it-yourself desktop environments. My dual-Xeon workstation, which I switched over from Fedora KDE to OpenBSD, runs Xfce, because I feel a smaller desktop environment is a more natural fit for OpenBSD, but I’m very happy to know that I have KDE to fall back on in case Xfce turns out not to be a good fit for me in the long term. I’ll give the OpenBSD developers an other experts in that community some more time to iron out any wrinkles, and then I’ll probably give it a go to see just how well KDE will be integrated with the OpenBSD base system.