Thom Holwerda Archive

Introducing Darkstar: a Xerox Star emulator

Given its history and relationship to the Alto, the Star seemed appropriate for my next emulation project. (You can find the Alto emulator, ContrAlto, here). As with the Alto a substantial amount of detailed hardware documentation had been preserved and archived, making it possible to learn about the machine’s inner workings… Except in a few rather important places. Fortunately, Al Kossow at Bitsavers was able to provide extra documentation that filled in most of the holes. Cross-referencing all of this with the available schematics, it looked like there was enough information to make the project possible. This is an amazing project, and the article provides a lot of details about the process of writing the emulator. I’m definitely going to try this out this week to see if I can get it running. I’ve never used the Star, and that’s likely never going to change – they’re rare, expensive, and in museums – so this is the next best thing. I think most of us owe it to ourselves to try this out.

zkeme80: a Forth-based OS for the TI-84+ calculator

If you’ve been looking at operating systems for the TI-84+, chances are you’ve come across KnightOS. It’s well developed and has plenty of Unix-like features such as filesystems and tasks, and even a C compiler. But maybe that’s not what you want. You want an minimal operating system that allows you to extend it in any way you wish, bonus points if you don’t need to know Z80 assembly to do so. zkeme80 is that operating system, a minimal core with a mostly ANS standard conforming Forth interpreter/compiler. From words covering sprites and graphics, to text and memory access, everything you need to make the next hit Snake clone or RPN-based layer is already there. zkeme80 lowers the barrier of entry for customizing an operating system and enable rapid development cycles. Below the Forth layer, you’ll find two lowest level and highest level languages, Z80 assembly and Scheme. The best assembler is an extensible one, where writing macros should be a joy, not a pain, and Scheme has that macro system. I wish I still had the TI-83 I used back in high school. A friend and I bought a communication cable for our TI-83s so that we could play multiplayer Bomberman during classes. Fun times.

Windows 98 icons are great

Rather than some designer’s flashy vision of the future, Windows 98 icons made the operating system feel like a place to get real work done. They had hard edges, soft colors and easy-to-recognize symbols. It’s obvious that the icons were meticulously crafted. Each 256-color .ico file includes a pixel-perfect 16×16, 32×32 and 48×48 version that looks equally good on the taskbar and desktop. They are, indeed, quite good. Most platforms from that era had exquisite icon design – think Mac OS 9 or BeOS – and we really seem to have lost some of that usability. I feel like Haiku’s current icon set best captures that same aesthetic, but in a modern coat (and a unique, custom-designed vector icon format).

Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed

It’s all being blown way out of proportion. The Fossil deal is not going to fix Wear OS. This is not the acquisition that will lead to a Pixel Watch. In reality, the deal was probably too small to really matter. Let’s pour some cold water on all this optimism. Wear OS is still doomed. I wouldn’t call Wear OS “doomed” per se, but to say it’s not doing particularly well is a massive understatement.

Microsoft to end Windows 10 Mobile updates and support in December

Microsoft is planning to end support for Windows 10 Mobile devices in December. While Microsoft revealed back in 2017 that the company was no longer developing new features or hardware for Windows 10 Mobile, security and software updates have continued. These security updates will now cease on December 10th 2019, and devices will be unsupported after this date. “Windows 10 Mobile, version 1709 (released October 2017) is the last release of Windows 10 Mobile and Microsoft will end support on December 10, 2019,” reads a Microsoft support note that was updated this week. Microsoft is now recommending that Windows 10 Mobile users move to iOS or Android devices. “With the Windows 10 Mobile OS end of support, we recommend that customers move to a supported Android or iOS device,” explains a FAQ on Windows 10 Mobile end of life. After Microsoft pulls support in December, device backups for settings and some apps will continue for three months until March 10th, 2020. Microsoft notes “some services including photo uploads and restoring a device from an existing device backup may continue to work for up to another 12 months from end of support.” It’s yet another one of those moments where Windows Phone dies a little more, and every time, it makes me sad. I was a first-day adopter of both Windows Phone 7.x and 8.x, and to this day I maintain it was the most pleasant to use modern mobile operating system. I’m still sad Microsoft was unable to attract the third party developers required to keep a smartphone platform afloat.

Sailfish OS 3.0.1 released

Sailfish OS 3.0.1 has been released. From the release notes: Sipoonkorpi is mainly a bug fixing update, bringing in just a few new features. We’ve added Bulgarian language support and improved the handling of email folders. You can now create light ambiences, and respond to meeting invitations through Exchange and Google. We’ve also tuned up SD card encryption and protected critical Top Menu toggles with the security code. It’s available for Jolla devices and the Xperia X and XA2.

Is C++ fast?

A library that I work on often these days, meshoptimizer, has changed over time to use fewer and fewer C++ library features, up until the current state where the code closely resembles C even though it uses some C++ features. There have been many reasons behind the changes – dropping C++11 requirement allowed me to make sure anybody can compile the library on any platform, removing std::vector substantially improved performance of unoptimized builds, removing algorithm includes sped up compilation. However, I’ve never quite taken the leap all the way to C with this codebase. Today we’ll explore the gamut of possible C++ implementations for one specific algorithm, mesh simplifier, henceforth known as simplifier.cpp, and see if going all the way to C is worthwhile.

Satya Nadella teases Microsoft 365 subscription for consumers

Microsoft first unveiled its Microsoft 365 bundle of Windows 10 and Office for businesses and schools back in 2017. While a bundle of buying Office and Windows licenses makes sense for commercial customers, Microsoft is also looking to launch a similar bundle for consumers. Speaking to journalists at a media event earlier this week, attended by The Verge, CEO Satya Nadella gave some hints that Microsoft 365 will appear for consumers. I already have an Office 365 subscription, and the idea of adding Windows to that certainly seems appealing to me. It’s easy, straightforward, and doesn’t require any periodic large purchases either.

Tim Cook pretends to care about privacy in Time op-ed

Tim Cook, in an op-ed in Time Magazine: In 2019, it’s time to stand up for the right to privacy—yours, mine, all of ours. Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives. This problem is solvable—it isn’t too big, too challenging or too late. Innovation, breakthrough ideas and great features can go hand in hand with user privacy—and they must. Realizing technology’s potential depends on it. That’s why I and others are calling on the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation—a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer. Last year, before a global body of privacy regulators, I laid out four principles that I believe should guide legislation. If Tim Cook and Apple really cared about privacy, they wouldn’t have thrown 1.2 billion Chinese under the bus by handing over iCloud data to the Chinese government, and by sheepishly refusing to even mention “China” when it comes to Apple’s thin veneer of “privacy first”. Apple’s complete cooperation with the Chinese government makes it very clear that Apple is all too eager to roll over and disregard its privacy chest-thumping the second their own bottom line is at risk. And lest we forget – China is a totalitarian, repressive regime that doesn’t shy away from torture and concentration camps. How many Chinese Apple users have ended up in prison – or worse – because Tim Cook only cares about your privacy if you’re western?

Google is buying Fossil’s smartwatch tech for $40 million

Rumors about a Pixel Watch have abounded for years. Such a device would certainly make sense as Google attempts to prove the viability of its struggling wearable operating system, Wear OS. Seems the company is finally getting serious about the prospect. Today Fossil announced plans to sell its smartwatch IP to the software giant for $40 million. Sounds like Google will be getting a nice head start here as well. The deal pertains to “a smartwatch technology currently under development” and involves the transfer of a number of Fossil employees to team Google. Wear OS is definitely struggling, but it sure isn’t because of lack of trying from Fossil. The company has been churning out a whole wide variety of Wear OS devices, and they offer enough choice in design that anyone can find something they like – at acceptable price points, too. Sadly, like any other Wear OS OEM, they’re held back by a lack of acceptable silicon, since Qualcomm has been unable to deliver a chip that’s even remotely as good as Apple’s wearable SoC. Perhaps Google’s stewardship can address this problem.

Unity clarifies ToS changes, welcomes back “unsupported” SpatialOS

Days after a nasty public split with cloud gaming developer Improbable, Unity has reinstated the company’s license and updated its own terms of service to offer what it is calling a “commitment to being an open platform.” “When you make a game with Unity, you own the content and you should have the right to put it wherever you want,” Unity wrote in a blog post explaining the move. “Our TOS didn’t reflect this principle—something that is not in line with who we are.” The new terms of service allow Unity developers to integrate any third-party service into their projects, no questions asked. As a caveat, though, Unity will now distinguish between “supported” third-party services—those Unity ensures will “always well on the latest version of our software”—and “unsupported” third-party services, which developers use at their own risk. Negative publicity can definitely work.

Microsoft decouples Cortana and Search in Windows 10’s taskbar

Microsoft has released a new Windows Insider preview build, and it contains a significant chance we’re all going to be happy about. Going forward, we’ll be decoupling Search and Cortana in the taskbar. This will enable each experience to innovate independently to best serve their target audiences and use cases. Some Insiders have had this update for a few weeks now, and we appreciate all the feedback we’ve received about it so far! For those new to this update, when it rolls out to you, you’ll find clicking the search box in the taskbar now launches our experience focused on giving you the best in house search experience and clicking the Cortana icon will launch you straight into our voice-first digital assistant experience. Cortana is useless, and any steps Microsoft takes to get it out of my way is welcome to me.

Early Android Q build has a system-wide dark theme, permission revamp, more

The early Android Q leaked build we have obtained was built just this week with the February 2019 security patches, and it’s up-to-date with Google’s AOSP internal master. That means it has a ton of new Android platform features that you won’t find anywhere publicly, but there are no Google Pixel software customizations nor are there pre-installed Google Play apps or services so I don’t have any new information to share on those fronts. Still, there’s a lot to digest here, so we’ve flashed the build on the Pixel 3 XL to find out what’s new—both on the surface-level and under-the-hood. This article will focus on all the surface-level changes we’ve found in Android Q. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, most notably a complete redesign of the permissions user interface, as well as even stricter limitations on what applications can do, such as only granting certain permissions while the application in question is in use. There’s also a system-wide dark mode, hints of a DeX-like desktop mode, and a lot more.

The curious case of the Raspberry Pi in the network closet

Christian Haschek found a Raspberry Pi attached in a network closet at the company he works for, and since nobody knew what it was or where it came from, he and his colleagues decided to investigate. I asked him to unplug it, store it in a safe location, take photos of all parts and to make an image from the SD card (since I mostly work remote). I have worked on many Raspberry Pi projects and I felt confident I could find out what it does. At this point nobody thought it was going to be malicious, more like one of our staffers was playing around with something. Interesting – but worrisome – story.

Google sets deadlines for 64bit support in Android applications

64-bit CPUs deliver faster, richer experiences for your users. Adding a 64-bit version of your app provides performance improvements, makes way for future innovation, and sets you up for devices with 64-bit only hardware. We want to help you get ready and know you need time to plan. We’ve supported 64-bit CPUs since Android 5.0 Lollipop and in 2017 we first announced that apps using native code must provide a 64-bit version (in addition to the 32-bit version). Today we’re providing more detailed information and timelines to make it as easy as possible to transition in 2019. Important information for Android developers regarding requirements around 64bit support.

Fedora, UUIDs, and user tracking

“User tracking” is generally contentious in free-software communities—even if the “tracking” is not really intended to do so. It is often distributions that have the most interest in counting their users, but Linux users tend to be more privacy conscious than users of more mainstream desktop operating systems. The Fedora project recently discussed how to count its users and ways to preserve their privacy while doing so. As always, an exceptionally good article from LWN.

DuckDuckGo switches to Apple Maps for search results

We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple devices worldwide. With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available both embedded within our private search results for relevant queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search result page. I’m sure Apple users in San Francisco will be very happy with this news. For me, this means there’s no way I’ll be using DuckDuckGo’s location search and other mapping functions – Apple Maps is entirely unusable in The Netherlands, with severely outdated and faulty maps that are outright dangerous. I understand the privacy angle, but I feel like are better, more accurate options than Apple Maps. The world is larger than Silicon Valley.

Intel Core i9-9990XE: up to 5.0 GHz, auction only

AnandTech has seen documents and supporting information from multiple sources that show that Intel is planning to release a new high-end desktop processor, the Core i9-9990XE. These documents show that the processors will not be sold at retail; rather they will only be sold to system integrators, and then only through a closed online auction.  This new processor will be the highest numbered processor in Intel’s high-end desktop line. The current top processor is the i9-9980XE, an 18 core part with a base frequency of 3.5 GHz and a turbo frequency of 4.0 GHz. The i9-9990XE, on the other hand, is not simply the 9980XE with an increase in frequency. The Core i9-9990XE will be a 14 core processor, but with a base frequency of 4.0 GHz and a turbo frequency of 5.0 GHz. This makes it a super-binned 9940X. This probably means this is very much a low-yield chip Intel can’t make enough of to sell at retail.

The first Windows 10 build for foldable devices appears

According to BuildFeed, which regularly posts about new builds of Windows 10, the first build of a new SKU for foldable devices has been compiled. It comes with the build string rs_shell_devices_foldables.190111-1800, and it’s from the 19H1 development branch. The build number is 18313.1004. The obvious conclusion to draw is that this is for Microsoft’s rumored Andromeda device. While the project was shelved back in July, it was originally for a foldable PC that could fit in your pocket. It’s likely now that it will be a larger device that’s slated for later on this year. Foldable devices are definitely coming this year, but I feel like it might take a while for both users and device and software makers to figure out where, exactly, the fit into our lives.

Vintage gaming on Xenix

This post is about vintage gaming in vintage unusual operating systems, focused on Xenix/x86. Tried Hampa’s turnkey xenix86 images while they had been tested in fake86, 8086tiny and other emulators. The installation was surprisingly easy, because most software packages in floppy/tape images are basically in .tar format, so let’s check GAMES 360k floppy image’s content on host. I can’t get enough of articles like these.