General Development Archive

Are alternative app stores worth it?

App Store Optimization is, for most people, synonymous with Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. After all, they contribute to 90% of the total available apps in the market. But they’re not the only ones out there. These alternative app stores seem to lurk in the shadows but each of them has its slew of users. With the looming DMA and Open Markets Acts that aim to open the app markets to third-party stores,  their time to shine may be just around the corner. Are they worth looking into? We’re investigating the topic. I’m actually quite surprised by these numbers. Of course, China has a whole slew of China-only application stores that are incredibly popular, but even outside of China, there’s quite a few application stores that seem to have found their niche, and doing well. If you’re a developer of certain applications, it might be worth it to check some of these more specialised application stores. And with the EU on the brink of cracking Apple’s stranglehold on iOS applications, we’re going to see an explosion of tailored application stores,

Ntfs2btrfs: convert NTFS to Btrfs

Ntfs2btrfs is a tool which does in-place conversion of Microsoft’s NTFS filesystem to the open-source filesystem Btrfs, much as btrfs-convert does for ext2. The original image is saved as a reflink copy at image/ntfs.img, and if you want to keep the conversion you can delete this to free up space. Neat tool, but probably with a rather limited application.

All desktop calculators are wrong, so I had to build my own

Writing this article wasn’t easy. At first glance, it’s all about a fairly unentertaining subject (building a calculator, the kind of exercise that every IT student tried at some point of its education), and to make the matter worse, it’s pedantically advertised. But in the end, I believe that this article really brings out valuable features, highlights enjoyable development stories, and offers an interesting experience, so bear with me! I built a desktop calculator called Chalk, which is free and supports macOS 10.9+. Because I had to make unconventional choices and introduce ideas that I never saw anywhere else before, my first task is to convince you that Chalk is more interesting than it looks. Alright, let’s see what the not-at-all critical and discerning OSNews readership thinks of this one.

Writing an OS in Rust

This blog series creates a small operating system in the Rust programming language. Each post is a small tutorial and includes all needed code, so you can follow along if you like. The source code is also available in the corresponding Github repository. A great way to learn Rust.

Rust-written replacement to GNU Coreutils progressing, some binaries now faster

Along with the broader industry trend of transitioning security-sensitive code to memory-safe languages like Rust, there has been an effort to write a Rust-based replacement to GNU Coreutils. For nearly a year that Rust Coreutils has been able to run a basic Debian system while more recently they have been increasing their level of GNU Coreutils compatibility and in some cases now even outperforming the upstream project. For someone like me, who isn’t a programmer, it’s difficult to really say anything meaningful when it comes to the pros and cons of individual programming languages, but on the face of it, with my limited understanding, modern languages like Rust do seem like a safer, more modern, more robust choice.

Go does not need a Java-style GC

Modern languages such as Go, Julia and Rust don’t need complex garbage collectors like the ones use by Java C#. But why? To explain why, we need to get into how garbage collectors work and how different languages allocate memory in different ways. However, we will start by looking at why Java in particular needs such a complex garbage collector. Good info on how Go deals with memory versus how Java, mainly, handles memory. The most interesting start of a rabbit hole is the mention of research work around memory allocators.

Rust on MIPS64 Windows NT 4.0

Well, I do all of my projects in Rust now. Even little scripts I’d usually write in Python I often find myself grabbing Rust for. I’m comfortable with using Rust for pretty much any project at this point, that I decided that for a long-ish term stream project (ultimately a snapshot fuzzer for NT), I would want to do this in Rust. The very first thought that comes to mind is to just build a MIPS executable from Rust, and just… run it. Well, that would be great, but unfortunately there were a few hiccups. Imagine that – running Rust code on Windows NT 4.0 on MIPS led to some hiccups.

Using Flutter to build a native-looking desktop app for macOS and Windows

Here, I will try to present another huge benefit of using Flutter desktop: the ability to build an app with a user interface that matches the underlying platform’s design standards. As you can see, Shortcut Keeper is built to be an adaptive app for desktops, boasting a different UI design for macOS and Windows, while using a single codebase. This has always been the holy grail of cross-platform development, and the screenshots here are relatively convincing.

GitHub’s new Copilot code suggestion tool raises GPL concerns

Today, we are launching a technical preview of GitHub Copilot, a new AI pair programmer that helps you write better code. GitHub Copilot draws context from the code you’re working on, suggesting whole lines or entire functions. It helps you quickly discover alternative ways to solve problems, write tests, and explore new APIs without having to tediously tailor a search for answers on the internet. As you type, it adapts to the way you write code—to help you complete your work faster. Sounds like a cool and useful feature, but this does raise some interesting questions about the code it generates. Sure, generated code might be entirely new, but what about possible cases where the code it “generates” is just taken from the existing projects the AI was trained on? The AI was trained on open source code available on GitHub, including a lot of code licensed under, for instance, the GPL. GitHub says in the Copilot FAQ: GitHub Copilot is a code synthesizer, not a search engine: the vast majority of the code that it suggests is uniquely generated and has never been seen before. We found that about 0.1% of the time, the suggestion may contain some snippets that are verbatim from the training set. Here is an in-depth study on the model’s behavior. Many of these cases happen when you don’t provide sufficient context (in particular, when editing an empty file), or when there is a common, perhaps even universal, solution to the problem. We are building an origin tracker to help detect the rare instances of code that is repeated from the training set, to help you make good real-time decisions about GitHub Copilot’s suggestions. That 0.1% may not sound like a lot, but that’s misleading – another way to put it is that out of every 1000 suggestions Copilot makes, 1 is copy/pasted code someone has written and selected a license for, and that license must, of course, be respected. On top of that, it’s hard to argue that code generated from a set of existing open source code doesn’t constitute a derivative work, and is thus covered by the copyright open source licenses are based on. I am not a lawyer, so I’m not going to argue Copilot is definitively a massive GPL violation, but as a layman, on the face of it, it definitely feels like a tool that’s going to strip a lot of code from their licenses – without consent and permission of the code’s authors.

The simplicity of making Librem 5 apps

Getting started with developing applications for a mobile platform can be a challenging task, especially when it comes to building and testing the application on the mobile device itself. The Librem 5 makes its application development workflow extremely simple. Among other things, you can develop applications on-device, which is something sorely missing from other platforms.

Most loved programming language Rust sparks privacy concerns

Rust developers have repeatedly raised concerned about an unaddressed privacy issue over the last few years. Rust has rapidly gained momentum among developers, for its focus on performance, safety, safe concurrency, and for having a similar syntax to C++.  StackOverflow’s 2020 developer survey ranked Rust first among the “most loved programming languages.” However, for the longest time developers have been bothered by their production builds leaking potentially sensitive debug information. I’ll leave this one for you folks to figure out, but from a layman’s perspective, it looks like a really dumb thing to keep paths from the developer’s machine like this in compiled binaries? At least after countless years, the Rust developers seem committed to fixing it, finally.

Fixing the oldest and nastiest bug in Commodore BASIC

Well, I’ll not tell a long story, how I debug, but come directly to the bug mentioned in the title. I tracked his existence down to BASIC 2.0 as used in the VIC-20, C64 and the early PET/CBM series and it seems, that it was never detected, documented or fixed. It is related to temporary strings, the stack of descriptors for temporary strings, that has a size of 3, and the so called “garbage collection”, which in reality doesn’t collect garbage, but does a defragmentation of string storage. Fixing an ancient bug like this must be a weirdly satisfying experience.

Flutter 2 is coming with support for Windows and macOS, foldables, and a ton more

The great unicorn of software development is to have one language and framework that enables devs to code an app once and run it on any operating system and any type of device. Flutter has been aiming to do this since its inception, and today it gets quite a bit closer to that goal with the announcement of Flutter 2. The latest major update brings major enhancements for mobile platforms, adds support to desktop, and massively extends its capabilities on the web — among other things. Does anyone here have experience with Flutter? It seems like it’s gaining some steam judging by the increase in news stories about it recently.

Weird architectures weren’t supported to begin with

This is the heart of the conflict: Rust (and many other modern, safe languages) use LLVM for its relative simplicity, but LLVM does not support either native or cross-compilation to many less popular (read: niche) architectures. Package managers are increasingly finding that one of their oldest assumptions can be easily violated, and they’re not happy about that. But here’s the problem: it’s a bad assumption. The fact that it’s the default represents an unmitigated security, reliability, and reproducibility disaster. I’m sure this will go down well.

Go 1.16 released

Go 1.16 has been released. The new embed package provides access to files embedded at compile time using the new //go:embed directive. Now it is easy to bundle supporting data files into your Go programs, making developing with Go even smoother. You can get started using the embed package documentation. Carl Johnson has also written a nice tutorial, “How to use Go embed”. Go 1.16 also adds macOS ARM64 support (also known as Apple silicon). Since Apple’s announcement of their new arm64 architecture, we have been working closely with them to ensure Go is fully supported; see our blog post “Go on ARM and Beyond” for more. More details can be found in the release notes.

An EFI app a bit rusty

After two tweets that I made last week, playing around with UEFI and Rust, some people asked to publish a blog post explaining how to create a UEFI application fully written in Rust and demonstrate all the testing environment. So todays objective it’s to create a UEFI application in Rust that prints out the memory map filtered by usable memory (described as conventional memory by the UEFI specification). But before putting the hands at work let’s review some concepts first. uefi-rs is a Rust wrapper for UEFI.

Petit FAT file system module

Petit FatFs is a sub-set of FatFs module for tiny 8-bit microcontrollers. It is written in compliance with ANSI C and completely separated from the disk I/O layer. It can be incorporated into the tiny microcontrollers with limited memory even if the RAM size is less than sector size. Also full featured FAT file system module is available here. Fascinating little project.

Texas Instruments removes support for popular side-loaded apps and games

Texas Instruments has long made graphing calculators beloved by school-goers and programmers alike. The calculators are simple, compact computing systems, and entire communities have formed over the years to celebrate the devices’ broad programming capabilities. All that’s about to change. Texas Instruments is pulling support for C-based and assembly-based programs on both the TI-84 Plus CE — the most popular calculator for sideloading — and the TI-83 Premium CE, its French sibling. The latest firmware for each completely removes the capability and leaves users with no way to roll back to previous versions of the firmware. Way back when I was in high school, I used to write my own TI-83 programs to… Well, to cheat on tests. These devices were a brand new addition to the education system at the time, and teachers had no clue what we as students were doing with them. One of my best friends and I also bought a communication cable for them so we could share stuff and play multiplayer games together in the back of class. Removing stuff like this is a terrible idea.

NuShell: the shell where traditional Unix meets modern development, written in Rust

Shells have been around forever and, for better or for worse, haven’t changed much since their inception. Until NuShell appeared to reinvent shells and defy our muscle memory. It brought some big changes, which include rethinking how pipelines work, structured input/output, and plugins. We wanted to learn more about NuShell so we interviewed both of its creators: Jonathan Turner and Yehuda Katz.