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Exploring the Future of Computing

*The Scott Forstall interview* 22 Jun 2017, 10:46 pm

The Computer History Museum organised an interview with Scott Forstall, led by John Markoff. Forstall led the iPhone operating system (now iOS) team for the iPhone and the iPad from their inception, and was a close friend and confidant of Steve Jobs. He was ousted by Tim Cook, supposedly because Forstall was a challenger to Cook's position and power inside the company. On top of that, much like Steve Jobs, Forstall supposedly wasn't the easiest person to get along with, and Cook wanted a more harmonious Apple. Ever since his departure from Apple, Forstall has been silent. This interview is the first time he's opened up about his long, long tenure at first NeXT (where he was hired on the spot by Steve Jobs himself) and then Apple, and quite honestly, I didn't really know what to expect. It turns out that if you close your eyes while listening to Forstall speak, it's almost like you're hearing Steve Jobs. The man is charming, well-spoken, has a thoughtful or funny reply to every question, sprinkles it with a touching or heartwarming story or anecdote - all the while showing a deep understanding of what made Apple's products great without having to resort to technical details or PR-approved talking points. As the interview ended and I pondered the whole thing, it just became so very clear why Cook would want to get rid of Forstall as quickly as he could. Can you imagine a boring bean counter like Cook sharing the stage with a man who so closely resembles and feels like Steve Jobs? It might very well be the case that a Jobs-like figure like Forstall would not have yielded the kinds of immense financial success Apple has enjoyed under Cook, but I can't help but shake the feeling that an Apple with Forstall at the helm - or even just an Apple with Forstall, period - would be a more exciting, a more innovative, a more boundary-pushing Apple. We'll most likely never know. Then again... It wouldn't be the first time someone gets ousted from Apple, only to return when the time is right. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...

Trump administration approves social media checks 22 Jun 2017, 10:46 pm

The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years. [...] Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history. [...] While the new questions are voluntary, the form says failure to provide the information may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application. This surely won't affect the countless incredibly smart scientists and engineers wanting to work in the US and contribute to the US economy.

Atari CEO confirms Atari is working on a new game console 21 Jun 2017, 7:26 pm

Atari CEO Fred Chesnais told GamesBeat in an exclusive interview that his fabled video game company is working on a new game console. In doing so, the New York company might be cashing in on the popularity of retro games and Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, which turned out to be surprisingly popular for providing a method to easily play old games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in HD on a TV. [...] Chesnais declined to describe a lot of details about the console. But he said it is based on PC technology. He said Atari is still working on the design and will reveal it at a later date. It seems extremely unlikely that this will be a console in the Xbox, Playstation, or Switch sense, but if it's based on PC technology, it won't be some rebranded Android tablet either. I wasn't an Atari kid when I was young - PC and Nintendo all the way - so I have no sense of nostalgia for the company, but I'm still intrigued.

My Ubuntu for mobile devices post mortem analysis 21 Jun 2017, 12:07 pm

Now that Ubuntu phones and tablets are gone, I would like to offer my thoughts on why I personally think the project failed and what one may learn from it. To recapitulate my involvement in the project: I had been using Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus 7 on an on-and-off-basis between its announcement in 2013 and December 2014, started working on Click apps in December 2014, started writing the 15-part “Hacking Ubuntu Touch� blog post series about system internals in January 2015, became an Ubuntu Phone Insider, got a Meizu MX4 from Canonical, organized and sponsored the UbuContest app development contest, worked on bug reports and apps until about April 2016, and then sold off/converted all my remaining devices in mid-2016. So I think I can offer some thoughts about the project, its challenges and where we could have done better. Excellent and detailed explanation of why Ubuntu Phone failed.

Leaked recording: Inside Apple's global war on leakers 21 Jun 2017, 12:07 pm

In what is surely the greatest bit of irony in the tech industry this week, a recording of an internal Apple briefing on countering leaking has leaked. Tons of interesting insight in the article covering the recording, but this bit jumped out at me, because I never put two and two together in this regard: Apple's Chinese workers have plenty of incentive to leak or smuggle parts. "A lot, like 99.9 percent, of these folks are good people who are coming to a place that has a job, they're gonna make money, and they're gonna go back and start a business in their province or they're gonna do something else with it, support their family," Rice says. "But there's a whole slew of folks that can be tempted because what happens if I offer you, say, three months' salary?' In some cases we've seen up to a year's worth of salary being rewarded for stealing product out of the factory." Apple workers on the production line make approximately $350 a month, not including overtime, according to a 2016 report from China Labor Watch. It never dawned on me that leaks could be the result of underpaid factory workers.

AMD's future in servers: new 7000-Series CPUs launched 20 Jun 2017, 9:39 pm

The big news out of AMD was the launch of Zen, the new high-performance core that is designed to underpin the product roadmap for the next few generations of products. To much fanfare, AMD launched consumer level parts based on Zen, called Ryzen, earlier this year. There was a lot of discussion in the consumer space about these parts and the competitiveness, and despite the column inches dedicated to it, Ryzen wasn't designed to be the big story this year. That was left to their server generation of products, which are designed to take a sizeable market share and reinvigorate AMD's bottom line on the finance sheet. A few weeks ago AMD announced the naming of the new line of enterprise-class processors, called EPYC, and today marks the official launch with configurations up to 32 cores and 64 threads per processor. We also got an insight into several features of the design, including the AMD Infinity Fabric. For the past few years, the processor market was boring and dominated by Intel. This is the year everything changes.

European MEPs seek ban on backdooring encryption 20 Jun 2017, 10:36 am

The European parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has put forward a proposal that would amend the EU's charter of fundamental rights to extend privacy rights to the digital realm and prevent governments of EU Member States from backdooring end-to-end encrypted services. "This Regulation aims at ensuring an effective and equal protection of end-users when using functionally equivalent services, so as to ensure the protection of confidentiality, irrespective of the technological medium chosen," they write in the draft eprivacy proposal. "The protection of confidentiality of communications is also an essential condition for the respect of other related fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the protection of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and information." On encryption the committee amends an earlier text, proposed by the EU's executive body, the European Commission, to state: "[W]hen encryption of electronic communications data is used, decryption, reverse engineering or monitoring of such communications shall be prohibited. Member States shall not impose any obligations on electronic communications service providers that would result in the weakening of the security and encryption of their networks and services." It's only a committee proposal for now that will need approval from the European Parliament, but at least it's something. It also happens to fly in the face of European leaders, who are talking of weakening encryption or banning it outright. This proposal would obviously be the right thing to do, but with so many leaders around the world exploiting the wholly irrational fear of terrorism (you're much more likely to die sitting on the couch than at the hands of terrorists here in Europe) among the media-primed public and people falling for that nonsense hook, line, and sinker (see Brexit, Trump, and extreme right parties in The Netherlands and France), this proposal will most likely not make it.

Debian 9 "Stretch" released 19 Jun 2017, 10:04 pm

In Stretch, the default MySQL variant is now MariaDB. The replacement of packages for MySQL 5.5 or 5.6 by the MariaDB 10.1 variant will happen automatically upon upgrade. Firefox and Thunderbird return to Debian with the release of Stretch, and replace their debranded versions Iceweasel and Icedove, which were present in the archive for more than 10 years. In addition, Debian GNU/Hurd also has a new release.

AnandTech's Intel Skylake-X Review 19 Jun 2017, 9:55 pm

This review comes in two big meaty chunks to sink your teeth into. The first part is discussing the new Skylake-X processors, from silicon to design and covering some of the microarchitecture features, such as AVX-512-F support and cache structure. As mentioned, Skylake-X has some significantly different functionality to the Skylake-S core, which has an impact on how software should be written to take advantage of the new features. The second part is our testing and results. We were lucky enough to source all three Skylake-X processors for this review, and have been running some regression testing of the older processors on our new 2017 testing suite. There have been some hiccups along the way though, and we'll point them out as we go. An extra morsel to run after is our IPC testing. We spend some time to run tests on Skylake-S and Skylake-X to see which benchmarks benefit from the new microarchitecture design, and if it really does mean anything to consumers at this stage. As always, AnandTech delivers the goods when it comes to CPU reviews.

How Microsoft researchers used AI to master Ms. Pac-Man 19 Jun 2017, 9:53 pm

Microsoft researchers have created an artificial intelligence-based system that learned how to get the maximum score on the addictive 1980s video game Ms. Pac-Man, using a divide-and-conquer method that could have broad implications for teaching AI agents to do complex tasks that augment human capabilities. These AIs are relatively simple and single-purpose now, but just remember what computers looked like only a few decades ago.

Sandboxing in Fuchsia 16 Jun 2017, 10:53 pm

On Fuchsia, a newly created process has nothing. A newly created process cannot access any kernel objects, cannot allocate memory, and cannot even execute code. Of course, such a process isn't very useful, which is why we typically create processes with some initial resources and capabilities. Most commonly, a process starts executing some code with an initial stack, some command line arguments, environment variables, a set of initial handles. One of the most important initial handles is the PA_VMAR_ROOT, which the process can use to map additional memory into its address space. Not the most detailed description just yet, but Fuchsia seems to be getting fleshed out more and more.

ReactOS details some of its GSoC projects 16 Jun 2017, 10:50 pm

ReactOS is participating in Google Summer of Code, and two of their projects have been detailed. Trevor Thompson is working on improving the NTFS driver: When I started last year, ReactOS could read files from an NTFS volume, but had no write support whatsoever. After GSoC last year, the driver in my branch could overwrite existing files. I also fixed a few bugs in the driver's ability to read files, which have already been merged into the trunk. I also fixed ReactOS' implementation of LargeMCB's, which our NTFS driver has come to rely on, and which a few other filesystem drivers rely on. My goals for this summer are simply file creation and deletion. Meanwhile, Shriraj Sawant is working on adding taskbar features (more about Sawant in his GSoC blog post): The current shell in ReactOS lets user manager running applications, start other applications and manage files but nothing more. This idea is about implementing 3 small shell extensions for showing the state of the battery of the machine, for ejecting usb devices and implementing the quick launch toolbar. These are important requirements and they are much needed while presenting ReactOS in real hardware. Not knowing the state of the battery or not being able to eject a usb flash drive is a serious usability problem. The shell extensions would be developed and tested to work on Windows.

Switching to the Mutt email client 16 Jun 2017, 10:03 pm

It was almost four years ago I switched from webmail to a customized email configuration based on Notmuch and Emacs. Notmuch served as both as a native back-end that provided indexing and tagging, as well as a front-end, written in Emacs Lisp. It dramatically improved my email experience, and I wished I had done it earlier. I've really enjoyed having so much direct control over my email. However, I'm always fiddling with things - fiddling feels a lot more productive than it actually is - and last month I re-invented my email situation, this time switching to a combination of Mutt, Vim, mu, and tmux. The entirety of my email interface now resides inside a terminal, and I’m enjoying it even more. I feel I've "leveled up" again in my email habits. I'm fairly sure a number of OSNews readers use similar setups.

Charles P. Thacker, designer of the Xerox Alto, passes away 14 Jun 2017, 10:18 pm

Charles P. Thacker ("Chuck" to those who knew him), who helped pioneer many aspects of the personal computer, and who was awarded the 2009 ACM A.M. Turing Award in recognition of his pioneering design and realization of the first modern personal computer, and for his contributions to Ethernet and the tablet computer, died Monday, June 12, at the age of 74, after a brief illness. [...] Thacker spent the 1970s and 1980s at PARC. During this period, he served as leader of the project that developed the Xerox Alto personal computer system, the first computer designed from the ground up to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface. The hardware of the Alto, introduced in 1973, was designed mostly by Thacker, with Lampson developing its software. It's hard to put into words how much this man - and his peers and team at Xerox - contributed to the world of computing. What an incredible genius to lose. Thank you for your immeasurable contributions, good sir.

New OpenBSD kernel security feature 14 Jun 2017, 10:15 pm

Theo de Raadt unveiled and described an interesting new kernel security feature: Kernel Address Randomized Link. Over the last three weeks I've been working on a new randomization feature which will protect the kernel. The situation today is that many people install a kernel binary from OpenBSD, and then run that same kernel binary for 6 months or more. We have substantial randomization for the memory allocations made by the kernel, and for userland also of course. However that kernel is always in the same physical memory, at the same virtual address space (we call it KVA). Improving this situation takes a few steps.

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