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The Power Mac G4 Line
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 22:56:17

The tower form factor may be a thing of the past, at least until the new Mac Pro shows up next year, but for years, if you needed the most powerful and flexible machine money could buy, the Power Mac was the only way to go.

For almost five years, the heart of the Power Mac was the PowerPC G4 chip. Starting in 1999 it clocked at just 350 MHz, but by the time the Power Mac G4 line was retired, a tower with dual 1.42 GHz CPUs could be ordered. In that time frame, things like Gigabit Ethernet, SuperDrives, and Wi-Fi became mainstream.

I have a soft spot for all Macs from the PowerPC G4 era - back when Apple wasn't boring - and the various models of Power Mac G4 aren't exceptions. I can't really explain why I find PowerPC G4 Macs so appealing, even to this day - all I know is that I am dead-set on collecting a number of them, especially those I couldn't ever afford when they were new.

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Google and Microsoft disclose new CPU flaw
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 22:52:50

Microsoft and Google are jointly disclosing a new CPU security vulnerability that's similar to the Meltdown and Spectre flaws that were revealed earlier this year. Labelled Speculative Store Bypass (variant 4), the latest vulnerability is a similar exploit to Spectre and exploits speculative execution "that modern CPUs use. Browsers like Safari, Edge, and Chrome were all patched for Meltdown earlier this year, and Intel says these mitigations are also applicable to variant 4 and available for consumers to use today."

However, unlike Meltdown (and more similar to Spectre) this new vulnerability will also include firmware updates for CPUs that could affect performance. Intel has already delivered microcode updates for Speculative Store Bypass in beta form to OEMs, and the company expects them to be more broadly available in the coming weeks. The firmware updates will set the Speculative Store Bypass protection to off-by-default, ensuring that most people won’t see negative performance impacts.

This cat ain't going back in no bag anytime soon.

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Windows 95 could run Windows 3.1 in a virtual machine
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 21:26:47

And the second The Old New Thing story, about adding a Windows 3.1 virtual machine to Windows 95.

As the Windows 95 project started to come together, I was approached to undertake a special project: Run Windows 3.1 in an MS-DOS virtual machine inside Windows 95.

This was the ultimate in backward compatibility, along multiple axes.

First of all, it was a demonstration of Windows 95's backward compatibility by showing that it could even use an emulated MS-DOS virtual machine to run the operating system it was designed to replace.

Second, it was the ultimate backward compatibility ripcord. If you had a program that simply wouldn't work with Windows 95 for whatever reason, you could fire up a copy of Windows 3.1 in a virtual machine and run the program there.

To use it, you installed Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 into separate directories, and then made a few edits to the Windows 3.1 SYSTEM.INI file to replace the mouse and serial drivers with special versions. There were some other preparatory steps that had to be done, but eventually you got to the point where you could double-click the Windows 3.1 icon, and up came Windows 3.1 in an MS-DOS virtual machine.

This is quite similar to how Windows 3.x worked in OS/2 at the time.

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Why is Windows ZIP support stuck at the turn of the century?
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 20:50:42

I've got two fun The Old New Thing stories for you today, starting with a story about Windows' ZIP file support.

Every so often, a customer will ask whether Windows Compressed Folders (Zip folders) supports something fancy like AES encryption, and we have to shake our head and apologize. "Sorry, no."

Why this sad state of affairs?

The compression and decompression code for Zip folders was licensed from a third party. This happened during the development of Windows XP. This means that the feature set of Zip folders was locked to whatever features were hip and cool as of around the year 2000.

You'd think Windows would eventually start supporting other archive formats as well, but no.

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299 macOS apps are so buggy, Apple fixes them in AppKit
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 00:16:45

What do Photoshop, Matlab, Panic Transmit, and Eclipse have in common? They are among the 299 apps for which macOS applies compatibility fixes.

Here's the full list of bundle IDs, along with the functions that checks for them, and the first caller to those functions. It's also available in CSV format.

Note that this is just a list of apps Apple has developed compatibility tweaks to make them run on newer macOS versions. As the list demonstrates, even the best apps often needs some tweaks on newer macOS. In addition, most of these patches are only applied to older versions of apps.

Here's how I extracted the list, and some interesting things I found in it.

This is absolutely fascinating, and provides some amazing insight into which applications Apple considers crucial to the macOS user experience and platform. We all know Windows performs various tricks to maintain backwards compatibility, but I had no idea Apple went to decent lengths too for the same reasons.

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Google makes two different versions of Android
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 00:09:20

We go through this every time a new version comes to Google's own phones while we wait for it to come to the rest. And the outcome is always the same - Pixel phones (and previous Nexus phones) look the way Google wants them to look and the rest of the phones look however the company that made them want them to look. That's because you can't see Android - it's simply software that supports the things you're looking at.

It's confusing. And tech bloggers (myself included) don't help ease the confusion very well when we write about the things we see on a software update for the Pixel. It's too difficult to try and break everything down every time we write something, and while we are good at a lot of things, we tend to shy away from "difficult". To compound it all, when we do try to break "Android" down, we usually make it worse. I'm going to try here because I'm feeling courageous and want to face "difficult" head on today. If I don't come back, tell my wife I love her.

Android is quite a complicated term, entity, and operating system.

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Razer Phone XDA display analysis
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-21 00:04:19

When contemplating who’d be a major player in the Android smartphone business, the gaming hardware giant Razer probably doesn’t come to mind. While they have yet to establish themselves as a reliable smartphone provider, Razer’s first attempt did not at all seem like it was their first time dabbling into Android, likely because much of their engineering team came from Nextbit. Razer leveraged their status in gaming hardware to appeal to those who game, and those who game hold high refresh rate monitors in high regard. So Razer put one on a smartphone.

This article takes a close look at the Razor phone's display, which is rather unique among Android phones for its 120Hz refresh rate (iPhones have 120Hz displays as well).

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Europe gets more open-access as university stand-offs spread
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-20 23:12:34

Bold efforts to push academic publishing towards an open-access model are gaining steam. Negotiators from libraries and university consortia across Europe are sharing tactics on how to broker new kinds of contracts that could see more articles appear outside paywalls. And inspired by the results of a stand-off in Germany, they increasingly declare that if they don’t like what publishers offer, they will refuse to pay for journal access at all. On 16 May, a Swedish consortium became the latest to say that it wouldn't renew its contract, with publishing giant Elsevier.

A lot of this research in partially or fully tax-funded, and as such, published articles must be freely available to the public. Good development.

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Hands-on with the RED Hydrogen One
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-20 20:45:39

We just got a look at the upcoming RED Hydrogen One smartphone at an event meant for "RED Pioneers" (read: superfans). It is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious smartphones in years from a company not named Apple, Google, or Samsung. It's an Android phone with a 5.7-inch display and top-tier phone specs, but that description doesn't do justice to what RED is trying to accomplish here.

The company better known for high-end 4K cameras with names like "Weapon" and "Epic-w" isn't entering the smartphone game simply to sell you a better Android phone (though it does have both Verizon and AT&T signed on to support it). No, this phone is meant to be one piece of a modular system of cameras and other media creation equipment - the company claims it will be "the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system".

I doubt this phone will ever have any mass-market success, but that's not really the point anyway. I like that RED is trying something new, something different, and takes it to the extreme with this industrial design. The module system here is different from previous failed attempts at doing so in that it's designed to tie in with RED's popular and expensive camera's and lenses from other big camera brands, instead of trying to appeal to the mass market.

This might actually work out.

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Inside the 76477 Space Invaders sound effect chip
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-05-19 20:39:38

The 76477 Complex Sound Generation chip (1978) provided sound effects for Space Invaders and many other video games. It was also a popular hobbyist chip, easy to experiment with and available at Radio Shack. I reverse-engineered the chip from die photos and found some interesting digital circuitry inside. Perhaps the most interesting is a shift register based white noise generator, useful for drums, gunshots, explosions and other similar sound effects. The chip also uses a digital mixer to combine the chip's different sound generators. An unusual feature of the chip is that it uses Integrated Injection Logic (I2L), a type of digital logic developed in the 1970s with the goal of high-density, high-speed chips.

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