Stop the world, I want to get off.
The annual Stack Overflow developer surveys often include lots of bad news. "People still use PHP," for example, is a recurring and distressing theme. "Perl exists" is another.
But never before has the survey revealed something as devastatingly terrible as the 2017 survey. Using PHP and Perl are matters of taste. Extremely masochistic taste, certainly, but nobody is wrong for using those languages; it's just the programming equivalent of enjoying Adam Sandler movies. But the 2017 survey goes beyond taste; it goes into deep philosophical questions of right and wrong, and it turns out that being wrong pays more than being right.
Back in February, Microsoft made the surprising announcement that the Windows development team was going to move to using the open source Git version control system for Windows development. A little over three months after that first revelation, and about 90 percent of the Windows engineering team has made the switch.
The switch to Git has been driven by a couple of things. In 2013, the company embarked on its OneCore project, unifying its different strands of Windows development and making the operating system a more cleanly modularized, layered platform. At the time, Microsoft was using SourceDepot, a customized version of the commercial Perforce version control system, for all its major projects.
SourceDepot couldn't handle a project the size of Windows, so rather than having the whole operating system in a single repository, the Windows code was actually divided among 65 different repositories, with a kind of virtualization layer on top to produce a unified view of all the code. Some of these 65 repos contained nicely isolated, standalone components; others took vertical or horizontal slices through the operating system; others were just grab bags of different code. As such, the repo structure didn't correspond with OneCore's module boundaries.
Microsoft's love for developers is well-known and has been enthusiastically expressed over the years. Windows' strength as a development platform—the abundance of custom, line-of-business applications, games, Office integrations—has given the company an entrenched position in the corporate world, ubiquity in Western homes, and extensive reach into the server room.
In the past, Microsoft's focus on developers had a certain myopic quality. One manifestation of this that was close to my heart was the development of the company's C and C++ compiler—or perhaps I should say, non-development. Microsoft's compiler did not support the C99 standard (and still does not today, though it's better than it used to be), and for a dark period through the 2000s, it made only half-hearted attempts to support the full C++98 and C++03 standards. The failure to support these standards meant that many open source software libraries were becoming difficult or impossible to compile with Microsoft's own compiler, making Windows at best a second-class citizen.
I asked Microsoft about this many times, wondering why the company didn't appear to care that it was making Windows irrelevant to these groups. The response was always unsatisfactory: the existing body of Windows developers wasn't demanding these features, and hence they were unimportant. Never mind that there was a wider community of developers out there that Microsoft was making unwelcome on its platform.
The Thunderbird e-mail client still has its supporters, but for the past couple of years, Mozilla has been making moves to distance itself from the project. In late 2015, Mozilla announced that it would be looking for a new home for Thunderbird, calling its continued maintenance "a tax" on Firefox development.
Yesterday, Mozilla Senior Add-ons Technical Editor Philipp Kewisch announced Mozilla's future plans for Thunderbird—the Mozilla Foundation will "continue as Thunderbird’s legal, fiscal, and cultural home," but on the condition that the Thunderbird Council maintains a good working relationship with Mozilla leadership and that Thunderbird works to reduce its "operational and technical" reliance on Mozilla.
As a first step toward operational independence, the Thunderbird Council has been soliciting donations from users, which Kewisch says has become "a strong revenue stream" that is helping to pay for servers and staff.
Cory Doctorow's new book Walkaway centers on the rise of a counterculture built on open-source technology that fabricates nearly everything from the "feedstock" provided by the refuse and wreckage of a world ravaged by climate change and economic ruin.
In a conversation with Ars, Doctorow discussed that and some of the other underlying themes that influenced Walkaway—including his previous novels, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Makers. He also talked about the role of science fiction in mapping out the future and how close we actually are to a "post-scarcity" world.
Ars: As I read Walkaway, there was sense a revisiting of some old themes for you.
Science fiction has long served as a platform for the hashing out of big social, political, and economic issues, either metaphorically or literally. Cory Doctorow has never been shy of speaking their names directly, whether examining the implications of the surveillance state or the shifting of social and economic forces caused by technology. In his first novel for an adult audience in eight years, Doctorow revisits many of the themes he's written about in the past, and he refines them into a compelling, cerebral "hard" science fiction narrative of a not-too-distant future that ranks with some of the best of the genre.
Walkaway (from Tor Books, which releases on April 25 in hardcover) is a very Doctorow-y book. Intensely smart and tech-heavy, it still manages to maintain the focus on its human (or in some cases, post-human) protagonists. Walkaway is also full of big ideas about both the future and our current condition, and it has enough philosophical, social, and political commentary lurking just below the surface to fuel multiple graduate theses.
At its heart, Walkaway is an optimistic disaster novel—"in as much as it's a book about people who, in the face of disaster, don't disintegrate into CHUDs but instead jump right into the fray to figure out how they can help each other," Doctorow explained to Ars. "That, to me, is the uplifting part—it's not a question of whether bad things will happen or won't happen, but what we'll do when disaster strikes."
One of the common questions I see about the rapid release schedules for the browsers (every six weeks or so for Chrome and Firefox) and even Windows-as-a-Service (Edge has a major update every six months) is, "how can the developers make large-scale, high impact changes if they break everything up into small chunks?" Firefox 53, released yesterday, and Edge 15, released as part of the Windows 10 Creators Update, show us how it can be done.
Mozilla is planning a major overhaul of its Gecko rendering engine to make it both safer and faster. This work is being done under the name Project Quantum.
When Gecko was first developed, webpages were largely static, simple things, and computers were mostly single core. The only time that GPU acceleration was used was when playing a game or some other 3D application. But today, pages are dynamic and complex, computers have lots of cores and simultaneous threads, and our GPUs are used all over the place. Not only is the browser itself now a 3D application (thanks to WebGL), but GPUs are being used to accelerate 2D content as well.
Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth will once again be the CEO of Canonical as the company reduces its staff and narrows its focus to profitable projects.
Canonical CEO Jane Silber announced her departure yesterday, seven years after then-CEO Shuttleworth asked her to take over the company's top spot. She previously served as Canonical's chief operating officer.
"I originally agreed to be CEO for five years and we’ve extended my tenure as CEO by a couple of years already," Silber wrote. "We’ve been preparing for a transition for some time by strengthening the executive leadership team and maturing every aspect of the company, and earlier this year Mark and I decided that now is the time to effect this transition. Over the next three months I will remain CEO but begin to formally transfer knowledge and responsibility to others in the executive team. In July, Mark will retake the CEO role and I will move to the Canonical Board of Directors."
Six years after making Unity the default user interface on Ubuntu desktops, Canonical is giving up on the project and will switch the default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME next year. Canonical is also ending development of Ubuntu software for phones and tablets, spelling doom for the goal of creating a converged experience with phones acting as desktops when docked with the right equipment.
Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth explained the move in a blog post today. "I’m writing to let you know that we will end our investment in Unity8, the phone and convergence shell," he wrote. "We will shift our default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS," which will ship in April 2018.
This is a return to the early years of Ubuntu, when the desktop shipped with GNOME instead of a Canonical-developed user interface. Shuttleworth's blog post didn't specifically say that phone and tablet development is ending. But Canonical Community Manager Michael Hall confirmed to Ars that the Ubuntu phone and tablet project is over.
Tizen, the open source operating system that Samsung uses on a range of Internet-of-Things devices and positions as a sometime competitor to Android, is chock full of egregious security flaws, according to Israeli researcher Amihai Neiderman.
Samsung has been developing the operating system for many years. The project started as an Intel and Nokia project, and Samsung merged its Bada operating system into the code in 2013. Like Android, it's built on a Linux kernel, with a large chunk of open source software running on top. App development on Tizen uses C++ and HTML5.
Presenting at Kaspersky Lab's Security Analyst Summit and speaking to Motherboard, Neiderman had little positive to say about the state of Tizen's code. "It may be the worst code I've ever seen," Neiderman said. "Everything you can do wrong there, they do it."
Microsoft announced today that CodePlex, the company's open source project-hosting service, will be closed down.
Started in 2006, the service offered an alternative to SourceForge. It was based initially on Microsoft's Team Foundation Server source control and later added options to use Subversion, Mercurial, and git.
At the time, there weren't a tremendous number of good options for hosting projects. SourceForge was the big one, but it always seemed light on feature development and heavy on advertising. CodePlex on the Web was much more attractive and less cluttered. The use of TFS for source control meant it also had strong integration in Visual Studio.
Open-source developers who use Github are in the cross-hairs of advanced malware that has steal passwords, download sensitive files, take screenshots, and self-destruct when necessary.
Dimnie, as the reconnaissance and espionage trojan is known, has largely flown under the radar for the past three years. It mostly targeted Russians until early this year, when a new campaign took aim at multiple owners of Github repositories. One commenter in this thread reported the initial infection e-mail was sent to an address that was used solely for Github, and researchers with Palo Alto Networks, the firm that reported the campaign on Tuesday, told Ars they have no evidence it targeted anyone other than Github developers.
"Both messages appearing to be hand-crafted, and the reference to today's data in the attachment file name IMHO hint at a focused campaign explicitly targeting targets perceived as 'high return investments,' such as developers (possibly working on popular/open-source projects,)" someone who received two separate infection e-mails reported in the thread.
Microsoft's embrace of open source software continues, with Azure Service Fabric making the first tentative foray into the open world. Today, the SDK was (mostly) published to GitHub under the MIT license. The team behind the move described it as the "beginning stages" of a wider use of open source.
Service Fabric, first revealed in 2015, grew out of the infrastructure Microsoft developed to build and run large-scale cloud services, including Azure SQL, Cortana, and Skype for Business. It provides scaling and fault tolerance for services, both stateless and stateful, running in containers across clusters of (virtual) machines. It runs in Azure, naturally, but the runtime is also freely downloadable and can be deployed across on-premises Windows systems, or even onto Windows virtual machines in non-Microsoft clouds. A Linux version of the runtime is currently in development, too.
Microsoft has already been using GitHub for tracking feature requests and bugs within Service Fabric. Users of the runtime have expressed a greater interest in the design and features of Service Fabric, and opening up the SDK is seen as the next step in engaging with the community and helping drive the development direction.
China has long been both a huge lure and a thorn in the side for Microsoft. Massive piracy of Windows XP, a decade-long effort to replace Windows entirely with a home-grown Linux variant called Red Flag and an OpenOffice variant called RedOffice, and a ban on Windows 8 for government use following the leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of information on National Security Agency spying all have combined to hinder Microsoft in the Chinese market. But now Microsoft—in partnership with the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group (CETC)—is preparing to reboot its relationship with Beijing, thanks to a modified version of Windows produced specifically for China, Dow Jones Newswires reports.
CETC, which develops technology for the Chinese government and military, owns a 51 percent stake in a joint venture with Microsoft called C&M Information Technology Co. Ltd. The new operating system created by the venture is in testing at three government pilot sites; Xiong Qunli, chairman of CETC, told Dow Jones' Eva Dou and Yang Jie that the venture was "beginning the sales process" with the Chinese government.
Windows 10 is already widely available to consumers in China. But Windows is still banned for government systems—and given the reach of the Chinese government into all things, that means Windows has been largely excluded from the enterprise market in China. The custom version developed under the joint venture is essentially a custom image of Windows 10 at its core, with a set of policy settings hard-coded for government users. It's not clear if additional code is being added to the image.
Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), a mechanism by which HTML5 video providers can discover and enable DRM providers offered by a browser, has taken the next step on its contentious road to standardization. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body that oversees most Web-related specifications, has moved the EME specification to the Proposed Recommendation stage.
The next and final stage is for the W3C's Advisory Committee to review the proposal. If it passes review, the proposal will be blessed as a full W3C Recommendation.
Ever since W3C decided to start working on a DRM proposal, there have been complaints from those who oppose DRM on principle. The work has continued regardless, with W3C director, and HTML's inventor, Tim Berners-Lee arguing that—given that DRM is already extant and, at least for video, unlikely to disappear any time soon—it's better for DRM-protected content to be a part of the Web ecosystem than to be separate from it.