Thom Holwerda Archive

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.

Apple has stopped providing standalone installers for macOS updates

Apple released macOS Big Sur 11.1 on 14 December. Although yesterday it finally posted standalone installers for the two concomitant security updates to Catalina and Mojave, no standalone updaters for Big Sur have appeared yet. Neither has it made available a standalone updater for macOS 11.0.1, which was released over a month ago. If you feel that you “have a need for individual downloads for Big Sur delta/combo updaters”, please let Apple know. In the strongest possible terms, via Feedback, Apple Support and any other means available. The lockdown continues.

Google, Facebook had illegal deal to rig ad market, Texas says

Alphabet Inc.’s Google reached an illegal deal with Facebook Inc. to maintain a chokehold over the lucrative digital advertising market, according to a lawsuit filed by 10 states led by Texas. The complaint, which targets Google’s central role in the buying and selling of display ads across the web, was filed in federal court in Texas Wednesday. The regulatory onslaught is here, and I have more than enough popcorn in the house to enjoy myself.

GTK 4.0 released

GTK 4.0 has been released. It is impossible to summarize 4 years of development in a single post. We’ve written detailed articles about many of the new things in this release over the past year: Data transfers, Event controllers, Layout managers, Render nodes, Media playback, Scalable lists, Shaders, Accessibility. GTK is the backbone of virtually everything I do on my computers – I run GTK desktops – and I know I’m far from the only one. The benefits and improvements of a new release of this toolkit will find their way to all of the major GTK desktops, and this is the first major step in that proces.

Google and Qualcomm partner to deliver 4 years of Android updates for new Snapdragon devices

Over 3 years ago, Google announced Project Treble, a major rearchitecting of Android designed to speed up software updates. While the architecture introduced by Project Treble has helped OEMs to speed up the delivery of major Android OS updates and monthly security patches, it has had an adverse effect on SoC providers like Qualcomm. In fact, Treble has actually increased the complexity, and thus the engineering costs, associated with providing Android OS update support for any given chipset. That has limited the length of support that Qualcomm can provide for its SoCs, but that will soon change. All Snapdragon SoCs launching with Android 11 or later—starting with the Snapdragon 888, Qualcomm will support 4 Android OS version updates as well as 4 years of security updates. That’s an additional year than they previously provided for their flagship 800-series chipsets. Since virtually all popular Android devices use Qualcomm chipsets, this is a big boon for Android users.

Google acquires CloudReady OS that turns old PCs into Chromebooks

Neverware lets you turn old PCs and Macs into Chromebook-esque devices through its CloudReady OS. While primarily aimed at schools and enterprises, a free “Home” edition for everyone is available. Google has now acquired Neverware and CloudReady with plans to integrate it with Chrome OS. Seems like a reasonable acquisition. I’ve always found it odd that Google hasn’t tried to push Chrome OS as a downloadable, installable operating system for people to install. The only way to really experience Chrome OS is to buy a device that comes with it, which often simply doesn’t make any sense. I hope this acquisition means Google intends to offer a version of Chrome OS that we can freely download and install.

A Wayland driver for Wine

After several months of work, we are excited to announce a first proposal for a Wayland driver for Wine. At this point the proposal is in the form of an RFC (Request For Comment), in order to explore how to best move forward with the upstreaming and further development of the driver. The Wayland protocol is by design more constrained compared to more traditional display systems like X11 and win32, which brings a unique sets of challenges in the integration of Wayland with Wine. Since Wayland’s window model is not based on a single flat 2D co-ordinate space, as X11’s was, the Wayland protocol doesn’t allow apps to control their absolute position on the screen. Win32 applications heavily rely on this feature, so the Wayland driver uses a few tricks to accommodate many common cases, like transient windows (menus, tooltips etc). This is an important first step in ensuring Wine performs optimally on Wayland systems, and considering the importance of Wine for the Linux desktop due to projects like Proton, this really needs to be sorted before a full move to Wayland can be made.

Linux kernel 5.10 LTS released

As expected, Linus Torvalds today officially released Linux 5.10. Besides being the last kernel release of 2020, this is a significant milestone in that it’s also a Long Term Support (LTS) kernel to be maintained for at least the next five years and also is a huge kernel update in general with many new features. Linux 5.10 features new hardware support including early bring-up around Intel Rocket Lake and Alder Lake, continued work on Intel Gen12/Xe Graphics, a number of storage/file-system improvements, and more. It will either trickle down to your distribution, or to the mainline repository you use.

Friends remember Microsoft renegade Eric Engstrom, who suggested a DirectX console

Engstrom was known as part of the “Beastie Boys,” a trio of evangelists who paved the way for Microsoft’s expansion in games in the late 1990s and early 2000s with DirectX. The expansion eventually enabled Microsoft to launch the Xbox (X signified DirectX) video game console — an enterprise that generated billions of dollars for Microsoft and made it a major player in the game industry. What a fascinating man and career.

The cleverest floppy disc protection ever? Western Security Ltd.

We’ve reviewed the most powerful BBC Micro model B disc protection scheme I found, across an audit of most of the copy protected discs released for the machine. It’s clever in that you don’t need specialized hardware to create the disc, or read the disc. But you’re going to struggle to duplicate the disc. Copy protection schemes from the ’80 and early ’90s are fascinating, and this one is no exception.

Working from home at 25MHz: You could do worse than a Quadra 700

I know all this because I remain a hopeless computer tinkerer who happened to come across a Quadra 700 around the start of 2020. Unlike my road test of the IIsi for Ars back in 2018, the Quadra 700 presented a tantalizing opportunity to really push the limits of early 90s desktop computing. Could this decades-old workhorse hold a candle to the multi-core behemoths of the 2020s? The IIsi turned out to be surprisingly capable; what about the Quadra 700 with its top-shelf early ‘90s specs? The Quadra 700 is such an enticing machine. Clean, elegant, and capable for its time, I’d love to play around with one today.

Introducing x64 emulation in preview for Windows 10 on ARM PCs

Microsoft has released a preview of 64bit x86 emulation for Windows on ARM. In this preview, you can install x64 apps from the Microsoft Store or from any other location of your choosing. You can try key x64-only productivity apps like Autodesk Sketchbook, as well as games like Rocket League. Other apps, like Chrome, which run today on ARM64 as 32-bit apps, can run as 64-bit using the new x64 emulation capability. These apps may benefit from having more memory when run as 64-bit emulated apps. I’m quite interested in trying out Windows on ARM out of sheer curiosity, but since I was one of the few sad sacks who bought a Surface RT on release day, I may sit this one out for a bit.

Cydia files antitrust lawsuit against Apple

A new lawsuit brought by one of Apple’s oldest foes seeks to force the iPhone maker to allow alternatives to the App Store, the latest in a growing number of cases that aim to curb the tech giant’s power. The lawsuit was filed on Thursday by the maker of Cydia, a once-popular app store for the iPhone that launched in 2007, before Apple created its own version. The lawsuit alleges that Apple used anti-competitive means to nearly destroy Cydia, clearing the way for the App Store, which Cydia’s attorneys say has a monopoly over software distribution on iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. “Were it not for Apple’s anticompetitive acquisition and maintenance of an illegal monopoly over iOS app distribution, users today would actually be able to choose how and where to locate and obtain iOS apps, and developers would be able to use the iOS app distributor of their choice,” the lawsuit alleges. Apple will fight lawsuits like this all the way to the Supreme Court if it has to, but I think there’s no saving this one. Eventually, somewhere, either in the US, EU, Japan, or even China, some regulator or court will demand the end of the App Store monopoly, and once the wall’s been breached in one jurisdiction, it will benefit the rest of the world.

Some Windows 10 users about to be force upgraded if they use older versions

Starting December 2020, Microsoft will begin Some Windows 10 users about to be force upgraded if they use older versions (windowslatest.com) if they don’t update their PC manually. The move comes after Microsoft announced that it’s ending support for Windows 10 version 1903, including Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. It shouldn’t be a concern for most users considering that the tech giant issued the upgrade alert two months ago. Microsoft had also confirmed that it would start forcing people to upgrade even if they don’t want to. Does anyone even know what all these version numbers even mean anymore? There’s version numbers, date-based names, build numbers – I have completely and utterly lost track of Windows’ development cycle and rollouts.

U.S. and states say Facebook illegally crushed competition, sue Facebook

The Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states accused Facebook on Wednesday of becoming a social media monopoly by buying up its rivals to illegally squash competition, and said the deals that turned the social network into a behemoth should be unwound. The prosecutors called for Facebook to break off Instagram and WhatsApp and for new restrictions on future deals, in what amounted to some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand. I hope it gets that far. Next on the list? Apple and Google.