Exploring the Future of Computing
The FCC has released the final draft of its proposal to destroy net neutrality. The order removes nearly every net neutrality rule on the books - internet providers will be free to experiment with fast and slow lanes, prioritize their own traffic, and block apps and services. There's really only one rule left here: that ISPs have to publicly disclose when they're doing these things.
The US already has absolutely terrible internet compared to most developed nations, and this will only make it worse. What an absolutely and utterly bad proposal - clearly the result of deep-rooted corruption and bribery among US carriers and the US government.
The Intel Management Engine (ME), which is a separate processor and operating system running outside of user control on most x86 systems, has long been of concern to users who are security and privacy conscious. Google and others have been working on ways to eliminate as much of that functionality as possible (while still being able to boot and run the system). Ronald Minnich from Google came to Prague to talk about those efforts at the 2017 Embedded Linux Conference Europe.
Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers - even when location services are disabled - and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals' locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.
Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.
The cell tower addresses have been included in information sent to the system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages on Android phones for the past 11 months, according to a Google spokesperson. The were never used or stored, the spokesperson said, and the company is now taking steps to end the practice after being contacted by Quartz. By the end of November, the company said, Android phones will no longer send cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers cannot disable.
Raise your hand if you're surprised.
I wiped off my Windows 10 installation today. It wasn't because of the intrusive telemetry or the ads in the start menu but desktop composition. It adds some slight but noticeable latency that makes typing feel uncomfortable. In Windows 7 you can turn it off.
If you're fine with unresponsive UI operations and graphical tearing, then, sure, go back to Windows 7 or earlier and turn off compositing to get a few ms back when typing.
Google's in-development operating system, named 'Fuchsia,' first appeared over a year ago. It's quite different from Android and Chrome OS, as it runs on top of the real-time 'Magenta' kernel instead of Linux. According to recent code commits, Google is working on Fuchsia OS support for the Swift programming language.
There's a tiny error in this summary form AndroidPolice - Fuchsia's kernel has been renamed to Zircon.
All this has been playing out late last week and over the weekend - Google is now working on Swift, and some took this to mean Google forked Apple's programming language, while in reality, it just created a staging ground for Google to work on Swift, pushing changes upstream to the official Swift project when necessary - as confirmed by Chris Lattner, creator of Swift, who used to work at Apple, but now works at Google.
Zac Bowling, a Google engineer working on Fuchsia, then highlighted a pull request that Google pushed to the main Swift repository: Swift support for Fuchsia. He also mentioned a few upcoming pull requests:
FYI, in the pipeline after this we will have some PRs related to:
adding ARM64 support for the Fuchsia SDK
fixing cross-compiling issues for targeting BSD, Linux and Fuchsia targets from a Darwin toolchain
adding support for using lld for linking specific SDK stdlibs (part of getting a Darwin toolchain capable of cross compiling to other targets)
supporting unit tests on Fuchsia
Regarding Fuchsia's purpose, this is yet another little puff of smoke. Sadly, we still haven't found the fire.
Computer users of a certain age will remember BIOS as ubiquitous firmware that came loaded on PCs. It was the thing you saw briefly before your operating system loaded, and you could dig into the settings to change your computer's boot order, enable or disable some features, and more.
Most modern PCs ship with UEFI instead. But most also still have a "legacy BIOS" mode that allows you to use software or hardware that might not be fully compatible with UEFI.
In a few years that might not be an option anymore: Intel has announced plans to end support for legacy BIOS compatibility by 2020.
This most certainly affects many older operating systems - especially older hobby and alternative operating systems that were never updated with UEFI support.
The Blue Lightning CPU is an interesting beast. There is not a whole lot of information about what the processor really is, but it can be pieced together from various scraps of information. Around 1990, IBM needed low-power 32-bit processors with good performance for its portable systems, but no one offered such CPUs yet. IBM licensed the 386SX core from Intel and turned it into the IBM 386SLC processor (SLC reportedly stood for "Super Little Chip").
Fascinating footnote in processor history.
Almost 14 years ago, way back in 2003, Sun Microsystems unveiled Project Looking Glass, a 3D desktop environment written in Java and making extensive use of Java 3D. The demo, by Jonathan Schwartz, always stuck with me over the years, and since YouTube recommended the demo to me today, I figured it'd be interesting to you remind you all of simpler times, when flipping windows around and 3D rendering in Java actually managed to get us excited (something no other project would ever manage to... Wait.).
Project Looking Glass was developed for about three years, and it actually saw a 1.0 release in late 2006. It's one of those random projects exploring what we then thought could be the future of computing, right before the iPhone came onto the scene and changed everything. While nothing came out of Project Looking Glass, Schwartz' demo did teach me the phrase "arbitrarily clever", which I'm unusually attached to.
Really, quite literally, some pretty skilled Microsoft employee or contractor reverse engineered our friend EQNEDT32.EXE, located the flawed code, and corrected it by manually overwriting existing instructions with better ones (making sure to only use the space previously occupied by original instructions).
This... This is one hell of a story. The unanswered question is why, exactly, Microsoft felt the need to do this - do they no longer have access to the source code? Has it simply become impossible to set up the correct build environment?
Well, I've really done it. I've taken a pure and unsullied Google Pixelbook, which at one time was fast and secure in all ways, and made it into a crashy mess. My crime? The desire to code.
I'm going to walk you through my process for converting this machine into something that's marginally desirable for programming, but I just wanted to warn you before I begin: this isn't easy, clean, intuitive, or practical. There are rumors that Google is working on better ways to make Chrome OS a host for other flavors of Linux or Linux apps, but right now we're basically working with hacks, and hacks hurt.
Because these hacks hurt, I'd implore you to read this entire guide before attempting any of the steps so you know what you're getting yourself into, and if you, in fact, desire the results.
I think the PixelBook is a stunningly beautiful and fast machine, and while Chrome OS isn't nearly as useless as people often think it is, it clearly isn't the kind of operating system many OSNews readers would prefer. This is a guide to getting a traditional Linux setup up and running.
The RISC-V port was just merged to Linux a few minutes ago. This means we will be in the 4.15 release, which should be out about 10 weeks from last Sunday. As soon as the tarballs are created, the RISC-V Linux ABI will be stable, and
since we'll ideally be in a glibc release that comes out soon after that we'll be fully ABI stable by early in February.
RISC-V is a completely free and open ISA that hasn't seen much adoption just yet.
Haiku's GUI is in principle entirely scriptable. You can change a window's position and size and manipulate pretty much every widget in it. The tool to do this is hey. It sends BMessages to an application, thus emulating what happens if the user clicks on a menu, checkbox, or other widgets.
The Xerox Alto, widely recognized as the first modern personal computer, pioneered just about every basic concept we are familiar with in computers today. These include windows, bit-mapped computer displays, the whole idea of WYSIWIG interfaces, the cut/paste/copy tools in word processing programs, and pop-up menus. Most of this vision of the "office of the future" was first unveiled at a meeting of Xerox executives held on 10 Nov 1977, which was 40 years ago last week.
To celebrate that birthday, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., brought together some of Parc researchers who worked on the Alto on Friday. They put it through its paces in a series of live demos. These demos used an Alto that had been restored to working order over the past eight months.
One of the most important computers ever made.
This is horrifying:
But even with the data we have, we can take a guess at how many outdated devices are in use. In May 2017, Google announced that there are over two billion active Android devices. If we look at the latest stats (the far right edge), we can see that nearly half of these devices are two years out of date. At this point, we should expect that there are more than one billion devices that are two years out of date! Given Android's update model, we should expect approximately 0% of those devices to ever get updated to a modern version of Android.
Whenever I bring up just how humongous of an issue this is, and just how dangerously irresponsible it is to let average consumers use this platform, apologists come out of the woodwork with two arguments as to why I'm an Apple shill or anti-Google: Google Play Services and Project Treble.
Google Play Services indeed ensures that a number of parts of your entire Android operating system and stack are updated through Google Play. This is a good move, and in fact, Android is ahead of iOS in this respect, where things like Safari and the browser engine are updated through operating system updates instead of through the App Store - and operating systems updates present a far bigger barrier to updating than mere app updates do. However, vast parts of Android are not updated through the Play Store at all, and pose a serious security threat to users of the platform. Google Play Services are anything but a silver bullet for Android's appalling update situation.
Project Treble is the second term people throw around whenever we talk about Android's lack of updates, but I don't think people really understand what Project Treble is, and what problems it does and does not solve. As Ron Amadeo explains in his excellent Android 8.0 review:
Project Treble introduces a "Vendor Interface" - a standardized interface that sits between the OS and the hardware. As long as the SoC vendor plugs into the Vendor Interface and the OS plugs into the Vendor Interface, an upgrade to a new version of Android should "just work." OEMs and carriers will still need to be involved in customizing the OS and rolling it out to users, but now the parties involved in an update can "parallelize" the work needed to get an update running. SoC code is no longer the "first" step that everyone else needs to wait on.
Treble addresses an important technical aspect of the Android update process by ensuring OEMs have to spend less time tailoring each Android update to every specific SoC and every specific smartphone. However, it doesn't mean OEMs can now just push a button and have the next Google Android code drop ready to go for all of their phones; they still have to port their modifications and other parts of Android, test everything, have it approved by carriers, and push them out to devices worldwide.
Project Treble addresses part of the technical aspect of Android updates, but not nearly all of it. While Treble is a huge improvement and clearly repays a huge technical debt of the Android platform, it doesn't actually address the real reason why OEMs are so lax at updating their phones: the political reason. Even in the entirely unrealistic, unlikely, and honestly impossible event Treble solves all technical barriers to updating Android phones, OEMs still have to, you know, actually choose to do so.
Even the most expensive and brand-defining Android flagships - the Note, Galaxy S, LG V, and so on - are updated at best only six months after the release of a new version of Android, and even then, the rollout usually takes months, with some countries, regions, carriers, or phones not getting the update until much, much later.
This isn't because it really is that hard to update Android phones - it's because OEMs don't care. Samsung doesn't care. LG doesn't care. HTC doesn't care. They'd much rather spend time and resources on selling you the next flagship than updating the one you already paid for.
Treble will do nothing to address that.
But let's assume that not only will Treble address all technical barriers, but also all political barriers. Entirely unlikely and impossible, I know, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that it does. Even then, it will be at best four to five years before we experience these benefits from Treble, because while Treble is a requirement for new devices shipping with Android 8.0 out of the box, it's entirely optional for existing devices being updated to 8.0. With the current pace of Android updates, that means it will be no earlier than four to five years from now before we truly start enjoying the fruits of the Treble team's labour.
At that point, it will have been twelve to thirteen years of accumulating unupdateable, insecure Android devices.
The cold and harsh truth is that as a platform, Android is a mess. It was quickly cobbled together in a rushed response to the original iPhone, and ever since, Google has been trying to repay the technical debt resulting from that rushed response, sucking time and resources away from advancing the state of the art in mobile operating systems.
As an aside, I have the suspicion Google has already set an internal timeline to move away from Android as we know it today, and move towards a new operating system altogether. I have the suspicion that Treble isn't so much about Android updates as it is about further containerising the Android runtime to make it as easy as possible to run Android applications as-is on a new platform that avoids and learns from the mistakes made by Android.
Each and every one of you knows I'm an Android user. I prefer Android over the competition because it allows me to use my phone the way I want to better than the competition. Up until recently, I would choose Android on Apple hardware over iOS on Android hardware - to use that macOS-vs-Windows meme - any day of the week.
These days - I'm not so sure I would. Your options as an Android user today? A Pixel phone you probably can't buy anyway because it's only available in three countries, and even if you can buy it, it falls apart at the seams. You can buy a Samsung or HTC or whatever and perpetually run outdated, insecure software. Or you can buy something from a smaller OEM, and suffer through shady nonsense.
You have to be deeply enveloped in the Android bubble to not see the dire situation this platform is in. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...
Just a month ago, OnePlus was caught collecting personally identifiable data from phone owners through incredibly detailed analytics. While the company eventually reversed course on the data collection, another discovery has been made in the software of OnePlus phones. One developer found an application intended for factory testing, and through some investigation and reverse-engineering, was able to obtain root access using it.
People often tout OnePlus phones as an alternative to the Pixel line now that Google abandoned the Nexus concept of affordable, high-quality phones. Recent events, however, have made it very clear that you should really steer clear of phones like this, unless you know very well what you're doing.