Thom Holwerda Archive

KDE roadmap for 2021

KDE developer Nate Graham has penned a post detailing some of the things the KDE project is working on that should come to full fruition next year. There’s quite a few things here, but the biggest one is probably KDE’s maturing support for Wayland. I’ll be honest: before 2020 the Plasma Wayland session felt like a mess to me. Nothing worked properly. But all of this changed in 2020: suddenly things started working properly. I expect the trend of serious, concentrated Wayland work to continue in 2021, and finally make Plasma Wayland session usable for an increasing number of people’s production workflows. That’s good news, and I hope the move to Wayland fixes my biggest issue with Linux on laptops: playing video is a massive assault on your battery and fans.

EU Signs €145bn declaration to develop next gen processors and 2nm technology

In a major push to give Europe pride of place in the global semiconductor design and fabrication ecosystem, 17 EU member states this week signed a joint declaration to commit to work together in developing next generation, trusted low-power embedded processors and advanced process technologies down to 2nm. It will allocate up to €145bn funding for this European initiative over the next 2-3 years. Recognizing the foundational nature of embedded processors, security and leading-edge semiconductor technologies in everything from cars, medical equipment, mobile phones and networks to environmental monitoring, and smart devices and services, the European Commission said this is the reason it is crucial for key industries to be able to compete globally and have the capacity to design and produce the most powerful processors. It’s kind of odd that Europe does not command a more prominent position in the semiconductor industry, since the one company that enables the constant progress in this sector isn’t American, Chinese, or Japanese – but Dutch. ASML is by far the world’s largest developer and producer of photolithography systems, which are the machines companies like Intel and TSMC use to fabricate integrated circuits. Their machine are some of the most advanced machines in the world, and all the advanced, high-end chips from Intel, Apple, AMD, and so on, are built using machines from ASML. It seems odd, then, that Europe’s own semiconductor industry lags behind that of the rest of the world. This investment seems to aim to correct that, and that’s a good thing for all of us, no matter if you’re European, American, or from anywhere else – this can only increase competition.

ReactOS in 2020

Despite all the turbulence, it has been quite a productive year for ReactOS. Many bugs and instabilities were resolved, many more have been introduced. This year we hired two kernel developers full-time, this happened for the first time in the project’s history. The post highlights some of the changes which may be interesting to the community. This post is a good overview of the progress the ReactOS project has made this past year. One of the major achievements this year is that ReactOS can now use Windows’ own NTFS driver, which is pretty amazing.

Haiku makes progress on ARM port

There’s a new Haiku activity report, and there’s been a lot of activity over the past two months. My pick this time is progress on the ARM port. tqh and kallisti5 are working on the ARM port. The bootloader is now running mostly fine in UEFI mode but there is some work to be done to set up the MMU before handing control over to the kernel. There are problems related to the “hardfloat” and “softfloat” ABIs on ARM, however. Until now we had worked with the “hardfloat” ABI for Haiku, assuming floating point hardware was available (as is the case on any modern CPU we could reasonably target). However, the EFI firmware does not properly handle these registers, and this seems to result in some confusion when passing data to and from the firmware. We may need to build the bootloader in soft-float mode (not using the hardware floating point processing), but that in turn creates some difficulties with properly configuring gcc. On 64bit ARM, the floating point support is not optional, so it may be easier to move forward with the 64bit port first. The ARM port is important for the future, since desktop and laptop ARM hardware may become far more available than it is today.

Apple loses copyright claims in lawsuit against Corellium

Corellium, a mobile device company that supports iOS, this week won a significant victory in its legal battle against Apple. Apple last year sued Corellium for copyright infringement because the Corellium software is designed to replicate iOS to allow security researchers to locate bugs and security flaws. According to The Washington Post, a Florida judge threw out Apple’s claims that Corellium had violated copyright law with its software. The judge said that Corellium successfully demonstrated that it operates under fair use terms. A very unlikely victory, considering the massive financial means difference between these two companies. A good one, though – this was just the world’s largest corporation being annoyed a small upstart made their products look bad by giving security researchers the tools they need to find bugs and security flaws in iOS. Being annoyed your forced Uighur-labour brand might get tarnished should not be grounds for a legal case.

Update 2 for AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition released

Hyperion Entertainment is proud to announce the immediate release of update 2 for AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition. Update 2 is by far the largest update ever released for AmigaOS and includes more than 200 updated components with hundreds of bug fixes, improvements and new features and six completely new OS components. The update is the combined effort of four years of AmigaOS development and will bring AmigaOS4.1 Final Edition to a completely new level of stability and usability. This seems like a very large bug-fix and stability release, but since AmigaOS 4 is so hard to find proper hardware for, it’s difficult to keep up with the state of the platform. ACube did announce a new batch of Sam460cr boards that can run Amiga OS 4, but I doubt it will be many, and the pricing is, as with everything Amiga OS 4, not exactly cheap. I understand ACube is a small manufacturer, and I’m not at all saying they have much of a choice, but almost €500 to be able to run Amiga OS 4 is a lot to ask of newcomers.

Linux ported to the Nintendo 64 (again)

Here’s a port for the Nintendo 64. At least two people have done such a port before, but didn’t submit. This is not based on either. RFC because I’m not sure if it’s useful to have this merged. Old, niche, and limited platform. “But why”, I hear from the back. Having Linux available makes it easier to port emulators and fb or console games. Yep. Linux on the Nintendo 64.

Game Boy Advance architecture: a practical analysis

The internal design of the Game Boy Advance is quite impressive for a portable console that runs on two AA batteries. This console will carry on using Nintendo’s signature GPU. Additionally, it will introduce a relatively new CPU from a UK company that will surge in popularity in years to come. The Game Boy Advance has some of the best Castlevania titles after Symphony of the Night, and I’ve always been amazed that the developers managed to squeeze those impressive games out of this tiny device.

Fujifilm creates a magnetic tape that can store 580 terabytes

Fujifilm has announced that it has set a new world record by creating a magnetic storage tape that can store a staggering 580 terabytes of data. The breakthrough, developed jointly with IBM Research, uses a new magnetic particle called Strontium Ferrite (SrFe), commonly used as a raw material for making motor magnets. Fujifilm has been investigating Strontium Ferrite as a possible successor to Barium Ferrite (BaFe), which is the leading material today. Tape is still, by far, the most efficient and cheapest way to store loads of data that doesn’t need to be accessed regularly. I find tape-based storage mediums fascinating, and this is right up my alley.

Icaros Desktop 23 released

A brand new version of Icaros Desktop is finally ready for everyone. What you have under your eyes is the result of a very long work of analysis and revision, which covers different aspects of the distribution, in its native soul and in the hosted one. We wondered what users would love and how we could make Icaros Desktop more useful and, thanks to the work of third-party application programmers, today we can offer you an operating environment that’s more useful and more beautiful than ever. The novelties to talk about are many: from the Leu spreadsheet to the SilkRAW image reader, from the incredible RNOPublisher DTP to new games, but, above all, the hosted version of Icaros Desktop is the one which has taken a decisive step forward, both for Linux and Windows. The news are so many that, this time, we will list them in different sections. Icaros Desktop is effectively an AROS distribution, and AROS is the Amiga Research Operating System, an open source reimplementation of the Amiga operating system, version 3.x.

BASIC-DOS: PC DOS reimagined

So over 40 years ago, if Microsoft and IBM had partnered just a little bit sooner, if they’d been able to predict how popular the platform would become, if they could have harnessed more of its power, and if Microsoft had been able to build more synergy between their flagship BASIC product and the underlying “Quick and Dirty” operating system, how dramatic could the impact have been? It’s impossible to know with any certainty. However, what’s not impossible is creating that product today, and to see for ourselves what the IBM PC was really capable of from “Day One.” And that was the inspiration for BASIC-DOS, a product (well, just a proof-of-concept at this point) that combines the power of BASIC with a multitasking DOS. A fascinating bit of alternative history, and one that goes beyond mere words – BASIC-DOS is in development as a retro-programming project, and is intended to be released next year. You can get a preview of what’s to come, and follow development on the blog.

Xfce 4.16 released

4.16 was a special cycle in many respects (not only pandemic-wise, but also). One of the corner-stones of the non-code changes concerns our migration to GitLab, which is a change in development workflow and a huge step forward in terms of becoming more contributor-friendly and welcoming. In parts, the humungous changelog of Xfce 4.16 can be attributed to new contributors proposing merge requests (288 merge requests were merged or closed against our core components alone!). We also created a reference Docker container (xfce/xfce-build) and added CI pipelines to all components to ensure we don´t break the build. This is one hell of a big release, and contains everything from an entirely new icon theme to the end of Gtk2 support. The visual tour gives a good overview of that’s new.

Let’s do something dumb: can we turn a SPARC server into a SPARC workstation?

I don’t do this very often, but I’m turning to you, lovely reader, with a rather strange, obscure, and possibly entirely stupid question. As part of the first major OSNews Patreon project, I’m looking to buy and write several articles about one of the last proper UNIX workstations, and two companies immediately come to mind – SGI and Sun. Since I’m already halfway familiar with Sun’s hardware, and since their machines are more readily available, I’ve opted to look for a proper Sun SPARC workstation. The last true Sun UNIX workstation was the Sun Ultra 45, available with either one or two UltraSPARC IIIi processors. While these 15 year old machines are certainly readily available on eBay, they also happen to command what I think are crazy prices – the dual processor model, which is really the one you should want, goes for about €1200, which is far too pricey for what you get, and that’s excluding shipping, which often adds another several hundred dollars (and possible import taxes, to boot). However, do you know what type of SPARC machines are not crazy expensive, and far newer, faster, and more modern to boot? That’s right – decommissioned Oracle and Fujitsu SPARC servers. There’s tons of videos and articles out there about people buying decommissioned dual or more Xeon servers, slapping a modern graphics card in them, and use them as impractical, slow, and loud workstations or gaming machines. Basically, I want to do the same – buy something like a Sparc T4-1 server, slap some compatible GPU in it somewhere, and use it as a more impractical, slower, and louder workstation. For science. My question is simple. Is it possible to do this, and if so, how on earth would I find out which GPU is even compatible with Solaris or Linux on SPARC? There seems to be very little information available about this use case (I wonder why) and I’m at a loss as to how to figure something like this out. And yes, I know this is stupid. I know this makes no sense. I know no sane person would do this. I know the world will lose nothing if I do not do this. However, if nobody wants to make proper non-x86 UNIX workstations anymore and eBay sellers want to charge a ridiculous premium for 15 year old junkers, why don’t we just build our own non-x86 UNIX workstation? The Wrights brothers didn’t listen to all the haters, and considering this project would make about as much noise as a passenger jet, why should I? And wouldn’t you want to be part of this crazy journey? I mean, do you know anyone else crazy enough to even entertain a ridiculous, impractical, and stupid idea such as this? I thought so.

How an obscure British PC maker invented ARM and changed the world

If you were writing reality as a screenplay, and, for some baffling reason, you had to specify what the most common central processing unit used in most phones, game consoles, ATMs, and other innumerable devices was, you’d likely pick one from one of the major manufacturers, like Intel. That state of affairs would make sense and fit in with the world as people understand it; the market dominance of some industry stalwart would raise no eyebrows or any other bits of hair on anyone. But what if, instead, you decided to make those CPUs all hail from a barely-known company from a country usually not the first to come to mind as a global leader in high-tech innovations (well, not since, say, the 1800s)? And what if that CPU owed its existence, at least indirectly, to an educational TV show? Chances are the producers would tell you to dial this script back a bit; come on, take this seriously, already. And yet, somehow, that’s how reality actually is. ARM is one of Britain’s greatest contributions to the technology sector, and those men and women at Acorn, the BBC, and everyone else involved in the BBC Computer Literacy Project were far, far ahead of their time, and saw before a lot of other governments just how important computing was going to be.

IceWM 2.0.0 released

IceWM, the venerable window manager, has finally seen a new release – IceWM 2.0.0. It seems development has been taken over by a new team. Today looks like a fine day to turn a page of history and do some long overdue system upgrades. To begin, here is IceWM 2.0.0. We have two major changes:We remove support for the old and obsolete _WIN_PROTOCOL properties.We add support for the Imlib2 image rendering engine as an alternative for the gdk-pixbuf-xlib rendering engine. The Imlib2 image rendering engine is now the default, but this can be set at configure time. IceWM’s website has more information.

GNOME Shell UX plans for GNOME 40

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that a team has been working on updated designs for the Activities Overview. (Previous posts on this topic covered our initial motivations and design goals, as well as the results from some early exploratory research that we conducted.) This initiative has been the subject of significant activity over recent months, and we’re now at a point where we can share more details about what we’ve been doing. My feelings on GNOME are very double. On the one hand, I love the fact that the GNOME team really seems to have a solid plan of what it wants, and it sticks to this plan to a fault. On the other hand, I just do not like this plan. It doesn’t mesh with what I want from a desktop computing experience. The fact I have to mess around with shaky extensions through a web interface to make GNOME halfway usable to me just isn’t a great user experience. But that’s fine – this isn’t the Windows or macOS world where we have to take it or leave it. We have tons of other options to choose from (Cinnamon for me), exactly so the developers and users of GNOME can build what they want.

The Psion Organiser II: laying the groundwork of our smartphone world

Where and when did pocket computing start? Did it start in Silicon Valley, at HP, IBM, or Apple? Did it start with the Palm Pilot, or Apple’s Newton? Not quite. No, it started in the United Kingdom, with a device that today looks more like an old calculator than a modern smartphone – but it has applications, a homescreen with apps in a grid, two memory card slots, and a whole lot more. I’m talking, of course, of Psion, the British company operating out of London that built and sold the very first personal digital assistant – a full computer small enough to slide into a pocket, with various functionalities common to mobiles phones and smartphones, like clocks, alarms, an address book, phone book, a file manager, a database, a search tool, and more. It also had an implementation of BASIC, and support for external hardware accessories and two memory card slots. The hardware The computer in question is the Psion Organiser II, a successor to – you guessed it – the Organiser, retroactively dubbed the Organiser I. The Organiser II improved upon its predecessor in a few key ways that vastly expanded its capabilities and usefulness. First and foremost, the RAM was expanded from a mere 2 kB to 8, 16, 32, or 64 KiB (or even 96 KiB, but I’ve never seen one of those), which gave developers and programmers a lot more room to play. Second, instead of a single-line display, the older Organiser II models had two lines, and later models doubled that to four lines. Third, while the original Organiser did not have an operating system, its successor came with a single-tasking operating system. Another major change between the two generations is the addition of an expansion connector for hardware accessories. Situated at the top of the device behind a tiny sliding door sits a female hardware connector in which you could plug things like an RS232 port, and devices such as speech synthesizers, telephone dialers, and more. Especially the ability to connect barcode readers and thermal printers made the Organiser II incredibly popular in a variety of industrial applications. The beating heart of all Organiser models is a Hitachi HD6303XFP processor running at 0.9 MHz, which isn’t the fastest processor in the world, but fine enough for the intended use of the device. Since opening up my Organiser II to check for the exact part and model number of the processor is out of the question (I would need to remove and deform a glued-on metal band), I don’t know which exact model my device has. Using the Organiser II I have a Psion Organiser II LZ64 model, which is one of the later models with the four-line display and 64 KiB of RAM. After sliding down the cover – its sleeping bag, as I call it – you reveal a battery door at the bottom of the device. Slide in a 9V brick battery, press the ON button, and the first thing you need to do is pick a language. After selecting your desired language, the Organiser II will start to look and feel remarkably familiar – especially considering it came out in 1986. The default screen is what can only be described as a home screen, with apps listed in a grid. You use the arrow keys to move a blinking underscore cursor around to select the app you want, and hit the EXE button on the keyboard to launch it. The software of the Organiser II has a few interesting characteristics. First of all, the ON button functions as a back and home button too – pressing it will always take you back one screen until you hit the home screen. It’s nice to know that no matter what you’re doing or no matter how much you’ve lost your way, this button will always get you back to familiar ground. Subsequent and modern mobile operating systems all have a similar button. Second, the main storage is addressed as A:, and two memory slots as B: and C:, probably in an effort to feel familiar to users of CP/M and DOS-like operating systems, which all used the same concept of drive letters. What makes this doubly interesting is that the Organiser’s drive letter convention survived and made its way into the next operating system Psion would develop, EPOC. You probably know EPOC under a different name – Symbian. The incredibly popular and successful Symbian mobile operating system used drive letters, and it can trace that all the way back to Psion’s Organiser line. Many of the applications listed on the home screen are pretty self-explanatory. Time allows you to check and set the time, including daylight savings, and the device has no problems related to Y2K. With Alarm you can set up to eight alarms that can ring daily, every hour, and so on, which will ring even when the device is off. Notes opens a simple notepad, Calc is a calculator, and so on. There are three other applications that I’d like to focus a bit more on. The first and second are Find and Save, prominently listed as the first two items on the home screen. Unlike later and modern devices, the Organiser II treats things like phone numbers, addresses, and other similar and related information a bit differently. Basically, using Save, you enter information in what is effectively a flat database, without using any specific entry fields like “Phone number” or “Last name” (with Xfiles you can copy, paste, and create additional databases alongside your main one). After saving your entry, you can then use Find to retrieve it. So, after opening Save, you get the following prompt: 12:30 Save on A: >_ You can then enter a name, address, and phone number, e.g.: T HOLWERDA123 567 89012 BEOS STREETAB1234 DANO You can then use Find to retrieve this entry using any of the entered data as a query. It’s a very simple and straightforward way of managing information,

Microsoft designing its own chips for servers, Surface PCs

Microsoft Corp. is working on in-house processor designs for use in server computers that run the company’s cloud services, adding to an industrywide effort to reduce reliance on Intel Corp.’s chip technology. The world’s largest software maker is using Arm Ltd. designs to produce a processor that will be used in its data centers, according to people familiar with the plans. It’s also exploring using another chip that would power some of its Surface line of personal computers. Of course they are. At this point, any major consumer platform company not working on their own ARM chips is being irresponsible.

The Ampere Altra review: 2x 80 cores Arm server performance monster

The Altra overall is an astounding achievement – the company has managed to meet, and maybe even surpass all expectations out of this first-generation design. With one fell swoop Ampere managed to position itself as a top competitor in the server CPU market. The Arm server dream is no longer a dream, it’s here today, and it’s real. AnandTech reviews the 80-core ARM server processor from Ampere – two of them in one server, in fact – and comes away incredibly impressed.

Google kills Android Things, its IoT OS, in January

The Google kills Android Things, its IoT OS, in January | Ars Technica, a version of Android meant for the Internet of Things. Google announced it had basically given up on the project as a general-purpose IoT operating system in 2019, but now there’s an official shutdown date thanks to a new FAQ page detailing the demise of the OS. Google promised three year of updates, but with the last update coming out in August 2019 and Android Things being launched in May 2018, Google made it to 1 year and 3 months.