Internet Archive

Taking a look at Mastodon

Mastodon is interesting. On the surface it might just seem like a Twitter clone, but it’s based on a federated protocol called ‘ActivityPub’. What this means in practice is that there’s no central server. There’s many instances. Each of these instances is managed by different people, and many of them focus on specific interests. With email, it doesn’t matter which provider you go with Thanks to universal SMTP standards that every server uses, you can exchange messages with everyone else. This is the same with Mastodon. You’re not siloed into a single instance, and you can follow people from any other instance. Unlike email, it appears that with Mastodon you can actually migrate to different instances if you don’t like your current one. I’ve left Twitter behind, too, and am having a much better time on Mastodon ever since. I plan on setting up a proper OSNews account on Mastodon as well, but that requires some coordination with Adam (our admin) and David (OSNews’ owner) that I haven’t gotten round to yet. You can follow me here if you so desire.

The $300bn Google-Meta advertising duopoly is under attack

For the past decade there were two more or less universally acknowledged truths about digital advertising. First, the rapidly growing industry was largely impervious to the business cycle. Second, it was dominated by the duopoly of Google (in search ads) and Meta (in social media), which one jealous rival has compared to John Rockefeller’s hold on oil in the 19th century. Both of these verities are now being challenged simultaneously. Having giants like Google and Facebook checked and balanced by competition is always a plus, but one has to wonder if this is just going to accelerate the race to the bottom in the online ad business.

Ladybird: a new cross-platform browser project

Since starting the SerenityOS project in 2018, my goal has been “to build a complete desktop operating system to eventually use as my daily driver”. What started as a little therapy project for myself has blossomed into a huge OSS community with hundreds of people working on it all over the world. We’ve gone from nothing to a capable system with its own browser stack in the last 4 years. Throughout this incredible expansion, my own goals have remained the same. Today I’m updating them a little bit: in addition to building a new OS for myself, I’m also going to build a cross-platform web browser. If there is one person who can pull off making a web browser and turning it into a successful-enough open source application, it’s Andreas Kling. His work on SerenityOS is simply stunning and inspirational, attracting hundreds of people to work on a ’90s-inspired alternative desktop operating system. If he can organise the same amount of enthusiasm for Ladybird, it has a real shot at becoming a successful, but niche, browser. For now, it’s very early days, and Kling is open and honest about how much work is still left to do. Since all the code is new – this isn’t a fork or Blink, WebKit, or Gecko – you can imagine this isn’t exactly going to be an easy ride. It’s currently running on Linux, Windows through WSL, macOS, and Android, and Kling states the Linux version if the best tested one. I’m definitely excited for this one.

What would a Chromium-only Web look like?

Many argue that browser engine diversity is the backbone of the open Web – assuring not only interoperability and user choice but also a bulwark protecting the Web from centralization. So my ears perked up when I recently heard from a well-placed contact that “many in the Chromium community are arguing for a Chromium-only Web.” While the Chrome team (and friends) have long railed against what they perceive as other browsers’ plodding implementation of cutting-edge extensions to the Web, it’s a pretty big leap to advocate for a Web with only one browser engine. I feel like we’re effectively already there. Everything is made to work in Chrome, and if you don’t use Chrome, you just have to hope the sites you need remain working. Chrome has long ago amassed critical mass for total dominance – those last few percentage points make no material difference.

Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Mozilla are working together to improve the web for developers

For the first time ever, all major browser vendors, and other stakeholders, have come together to solve the top browsers compatibility issues identified by web developers. Interop 2022 will improve the experience of developing for the web in 15 key areas. In this article, find out how we got here, what the project focuses on, how success will be measured, and how you can track progress. I’m all for working together in this industry, since working together usually means better experiences for consumers. Making browsers render websites more consistently is a great goal to strive towards, especially when it’s a joint effort.

The smart modem

I think I’ve mentioned occasionally that various devices, mostly cellular modems, just use the Hayes or AT command set. Recently I obtained a GPS tracking device (made by Queclink) that is, interestingly, fully configured via the Hayes command set. It’s an example of a somewhat newer trend of converging the functionality of IoT devices into the modem baseband. But what is this Hayes command set anyway? The Hayes command set is a fascinating piece of technology that’s been hanging around for far longer than most likely even its creators thought it would.

My first impressions of web3

Moxie Marlinspike takes a look at “web3”. Despite considering myself a cryptographer, I have not found myself particularly drawn to “crypto.” I don’t think I’ve ever actually said the words “get off my lawn,” but I’m much more likely to click on Pepperidge Farm Remembers flavored memes about how “crypto” used to mean “cryptography” than I am the latest NFT drop. Also – cards on the table here – I don’t share the same generational excitement for moving all aspects of life into an instrumented economy. Even strictly on the technological level, though, I haven’t yet managed to become a believer. So given all of the recent attention into what is now being called web3, I decided to explore some of what has been happening in that space more thoroughly to see what I may be missing. Cryptocurrencies are the MLMs and pyramid schemes for nerdbros. They are a complete waste of effort, hardware, and electricity, and literally do not serve any purpose other than drawing in more unfortunate suckers to broaden the base of the pyramid at the expense of the environment. And NFTs are even worse. There is definitely interesting technology behind these concepts, but for now, they’re being used for scams, pyramid schemes, and MLMs. Don get suckered into this dumpster fire.

Simplicity of IRC

During discussions with my friends and colleagues, whenever the topic of chat protocols comes up, I often remark how simple the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol is and how this simplicity has fostered creativity in the lives of many young computer hobbyists growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For many of us who were introduced to the Internet during that time, writing an IRC bot turned out to be one of our first few non-trivial hobby programming projects that involved network sockets, did something meaningful, and served actual users. It’s a big loss we let IRC kind of fall by the wayside as the world moved to things like Slack, Discord, and Teams. It turns out people want features like audio and video chat, emoji, images, videos, and so on – all things a slow-moving, classic standard like IRC will never properly support.

Unicode normalization forms: when ö != ö

Some time ago, a very weird issue was reported to me about a Nextcloud system. The user uploaded a file with an “ö” on a SMB share that was configured as an external storage in the Nextcloud server. But when accessing the folder containing the file over WebDAV, it did not appear (no matter which WebDAV client was used). After ruling out the usual causes (wrong permissions, etc…), I analyzed the network traffic between the WebDAV client and the server and saw that the file name is indeed not returned after issuing a PROPFIND. So I set some breakpoints in the Nextcloud source code to analyze if it is also not returned by the SMB server. It was returned by the SMB server, but when the Nextcloud system requested more metadata for the file (with the path in the request), the SMB server returned a “file not found” error, which lead Nextcloud to discard the file. How can it happen that the file is first returned by the SMB server when listing files but then the server suddenly reports an error when requesting more metadata? Special characters must be second only to time, dates, and timezones when it comes to weird behaviour in code.

You must never press the original Razr’s forbidden internet button

The first phone I ever owned was a Motorola Razr. The Razr’s buttons are some of the finest ever to grace a mobile device. The keypad is laser-etched out of a sheet of shimmering aluminum, and when pressed, ignites in a lambent blue glow that looked like the sci-fi future. But there was one button that I was terrified to press. In all my years of owning a Razr, I can’t say I tapped it more than once or twice, and never on purpose: the internet button. A lot of much younger people will never understand the dread that these internet buttons filled us with in the early 2000s. Whether true or not, I didn’t know anyone who was not terrified of accidentally pressing one of these buttons on their phones and racking up a massive bill, or rushing through your prepaid card. Times certainly have changed.

Running your own email is increasingly an artisanal choice, not a practical one

To be clear, you absolutely can still run your own email infrastructure, getting email delivered to you, filtering incoming spam, sending email (with DMARC signatures and other modern email practices), providing IMAP access, and even run your own webmail setup. You can even do this with all open source software. But the email environment you get this way is increasingly what I called an artisanal one. It’s cute, decent enough, and hand-crafted, but it doesn’t measure up in usability, features, and performance to the email infrastructure that is run by big providers. Your IMAP access might be as good as theirs, but things like your webmail, your spam filtering, and almost certainly your general security will not be as good as they have. In short, if you run your own email infrastructure, it will not be up to the general quality you could get from outsourcing to big providers (they can’t really be called specialists). And you cannot fix this by trying harder, nor with the magical right choice of open source software, nor with the magical right choice of commercial software. Entirely “on premise” email is now an inferior thing for almost everyone. I’ve always wanted to try and run my own email server, but I’d never run my main email address myself, since my income and interactions with the government depend on it. Still, it’d be a fun side project.

Diacritical marks in Unicode

I won’t bury the lede, by the end of this article you should be able to write your name in crazy diacritics like this: Ḡ͓̟̟r̬e̱̬͔͑g̰ͮ̃͛ ̇̅T̆a̐̑͢ṫ̀ǔ̓͟m̮̩̠̟. This article is part of the Unicode and i18n series motivated by my work with internationalization in Firefox and the Unicode ICU4X sub-committee. There are three motivations behind linking to this article. First, it’s an deep technical look at how Unicode handles complex diacritics, which in and of itself is interesting. Second, it’s related to language and writing, which sparks my person interest. And third and finally, I want to see if this will break OSNews. Sorry Adam.

ungoogled-chromium: Google Chromium, sans integration with Google

ungoogled-chromium is Google Chromium, sans dependency on Google web services. It also features some tweaks to enhance privacy, control, and transparency (almost all of which require manual activation or enabling). ungoogled-chromium retains the default Chromium experience as closely as possible. Unlike other Chromium forks that have their own visions of a web browser, ungoogled-chromium is essentially a drop-in replacement for Chromium. In light of the previous post, if you really do need to use Chromium for whatever reason, forego Microsoft ‘coupon clipper‘ Edge, the closed-source Vivaldi, or the cryptoscammy Brave – and opt for ungoogled-chromium instead.

Firefox is the only alternative

Supposedly today we have a lot of browsers to choose from – Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Brave, Opera, Vivaldi, etc. Having choices is a good thing, right? Nobody wants to relive the time of almost complete Internet Explorer domination again. Unfortunately our choices are significantly fewer than they seem to be at first glance, as Chrome and Safari (thanks to the iPhone) totally dominate the browser landscape in terms of usage and almost all browsers these days are built on top of Chromium, Chrome’s open-source version. Funny enough even Edge is built on top of Chromium today, despite the bitter rivalry between Google and Microsoft. What’s also funny is that Chrome and Safari control about 85% of the browser market share today, and Microsoft’s Edge commands only about 4%. Firefox all the way for me. We need more than one browser engine to succeed, and Firefox is the only viable alternative to Chrome’s dominance. Safari is tied to Apple so far too limiting, but at least it’s not Chromium-based, so that’s a plus. I’ve been starting to see websites that simply do not work in Firefox, which has me deeply worried about just how long I can keep up using my browser of choice.

So what is “the metaverse”, exactly?

So is the metaverse the next big advance that will revolutionize the way we all connect with each other? Is it just a repackaging of existing technologies into a new catch-all concept? Or is it just the latest buzzword marketing term? The answer to that depends on what you mean by “metaverse”. If there’s ever been a buzzword that truly gets under my skin, it’s this one. It’s clearly manufactured and groomed by corporations, Facebook especially, to distract form that company’s massive problems, lousy reputation, and damaging effects on society, and yet, tech media gobble it all up. The metaverse is nothing. There’s nothing that exists today called “the metaverse” that’s any different from things that existed four years ago, or even eight years ago.

Facebook changes its name to Meta

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday at his company’s Connect event that its new name will be Meta. “We are a company that builds technology to connect,” Zuckerberg said. “Together, we can finally put people at the center of our technology. And together, we can unlock a massively bigger creator economy.” “To reflect who we are and what we hope to build,” he added. He said the name Facebook doesn’t fully encompass everything the company does now, and is still closely linked to one product. “But over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company.” You can call a pile of shit whatever you want, but that won’t magically turn it into gingerbread cookies.

The Facebook files

Apparently, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp experienced a massive outage today – just days after a huge whistleblower report confirmed what we already knew – Facebook is sleazy, destructive, negligent, and as close to actual evil as an inanimate entity can be. Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands. That is the central finding of a Wall Street Journal series, based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management. Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself. It really sucks when all your friends and family use WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, since getting entire countries to switch messaging applications simply isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Why are hyperlinks blue?

Elise Blanchard goes on a deep dive of ancient GUI design and early browsers to figure out why hyperlinks are blue. But now, I find myself all consumed by the question, WHY are links blue? WHO decided to make them blue? WHEN was this decision made, and HOW has this decision made such a lasting impact?  I turned to my co-workers to help me research, and we started to find the answer. Mosaic, an early browser released by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina on January 23, 1993, had blue hyperlinks. To truly understand the origin and evolution of hyperlinks though, I took a journey through technology history and interfaces to explore how links were handled before color monitors, and how interfaces and hyperlinks rapidly evolved once color became an option.

Brave Search beta now available

Starting today, online users have a new independent option for search which gives them unmatched privacy. Whether they are already Brave browser users, looking to expand their online privacy protection with the all-in-one, integrated Brave Search in the Brave browser, or users of other browsers looking for the best-in-breed privacy-preserving search engine, they can all use the newly released Brave Search beta that puts users first, and fully in control of their online experience. Brave Search is built on top of a completely independent index, and doesn’t track users, their searches, or their clicks. Brave Search is available in beta release globally on all Brave browsers (desktop, Android, and iOS) as one of the search options alongside other search engines, and will become the default search in the Brave browser later this year. It is also available from any other browser at I’m going to give Brave an honest try, since I’ve been quite unhappy with DuckDuckGo lately, and Google’s search engine has been going down the drain for years now. Being in search engine limbo is not a fun place to be, so I’m genuinely hoping Brave Search can fill this void.