Spicy Tech Takes

Disclaimer: These are my OPINIONS only. Everyone has opinions, so please respect mine and I'll respect yours. They are not intended to be taken as facts of any kind. There is no particular order to these despite them having a date.

State of the Hackintosh Scene

18/09/2021

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I miss these guys like you wouldn't believe

If you've read my About page you'll know I got my start in computers on the Hackintosh scene of late 2011. I've been in the game for a long time, and with Apple recently switching to M1 most people understand that the Hackintosh scene isn't going to be around for much longer.

This is actually something I'm fully OK with. The current state of the Hackintosh scene in my opinion is... well, not what it used to be. I'll explain what I mean.

Currently, almost all development in the Hackintosh community is centered around or done by this group called 'acidanthera'. They developed the OpenCore bootloader - a fine piece of software, but they've just gone and absorbed various other critical projects in the scene, like VirtualSMC, IntelMausi, Lilu, AppleALC, they've even co-opted old projects from VoodooLabs like VoodooPS2. Further, they then say that they will not provide support for these projects on any bootloader other than their own!

This is in contrast to the scene of old, where there were multiple small groups/orgs and independent developers generally focused on different things, and a complete Hackintosh system involved utilising projects from all these parties. This allowed the user to mix and match software components as they pleased - not coerced in to using a singular group's projects out of fear they won't get support otherwise. This is made even worse by the fact this group is controlling vital software components like VirtualSMC, literal requirements for a hackintosh to function.

Not only has this created a culture of 'there is only one way to do it and if you do it another way you're wrong' but it is in fact very much like the behaviour of Microsoft or Apple towards competitors. You can see this effect in the community. I recently saw a post on r/hackintosh about a new Clover version, a competing bootloader, and there were MANY comments to the tone of "hurr durr why are you still using clover that's a dead project," to which someone rightly replied - "Last time I checked this community was called hackintosh not opencore".

As someone who was around for the mass transition from Chameleon to Clover back in 2014, I don't remember this much animosity towards those who chose an alternative... in fact I remember people still provided support and advice very happily, myself included! Despite the technical merits of then Clover vs. Chameleon, now OpenCore vs. Clover, while one might be technically superior and the way to go moving forward it doesn't mean you have to suddenly demonise the project that you were probably using yourself for a long time prior.

So to be honest, since the scene is basically controlled by one singular organisation, trying to force a single way of doing things I'm honestly happy for it to die, it's certainly a shadow of its former self and as someone who's been around it for a while it's genuinely sad to see what it's become. Plus macOS (OS X if you prefer) isn't even that good anymore...

Thoughts on BSD-style and Permissive Licenses

22/11/2021

As much as I love BSD operating systems (and I do, they're fantastic, absolutely no offence meant to the developers, the server you're connected to right now runs FreeBSD) I have to say I philosophically disagree with the use of BSD-style or permissive licenses for projects of significance. These style of licenses seem great in theory, and the proponents of them are totally right in that they technically allow for "more freedom" to the people using/distributing the software vs. GPL-style licenses, but in practice they have allowed large corporations to take people's hard work, make it into some bastardized proprietary project and make quite a bit of money while giving little or nothing back.

A fantastic example of this is MINIX, now an integral part of Intel's Management Engine found in recent Intel processors. The Management Engine is a 'black box' inside every Intel CPU, a proprietary operating system with full access to hardware and no documentation on what it does, obviously a privacy and security concern. If MINIX was licensed under a GPL-style license, this could not have happened or at the very least MINIX could not have been the project used.

Another good example is Apple's use of FreeBSD code in their own proprietary operating systems, iOS and macOS (formerly Mac OS X). In this example, Apple did actually decide to be nice and gave a significant amount of code back to FreeBSD (and I acknowledge their XNU kernel is also open-source) but they were under no obligation to do so and most of the components found in their operating system today HAVE NOT been open-sourced or given back to FreeBSD. Apple has made billions off of these operating systems, and FreeBSD gets some code they weren't even required to be given. A similar thing happened with Sony using FreeBSD as a base for their PS4 operating system Orbis.

Linux's use of the GPL has helped it greatly when it comes to getting funding and support from larger corporations, and this has been a good thing for that project overall. Significant changes, fixes, patches come from large corporations that have identified issues with Linux in their own use and these additions benefit everyone. This may not have been the case if Linux was licensed under a permissive license, as seen with FreeBSD.

I think one of the best applications for a BSD-style permissive license (and one where I'd make an exception about my disagreement with its use) is for the standard libraries of programming languages. By design, programming languages should allow the programmer to do whatever they want with the software they write, so permissive licenses excel for this use case.

This all being said, a permissive license is better than a proprietary one, so as long as a project is free software you won't hear me complaining about how it's licensed. I more feel a little bad for the maintainers of the project in the event that their hard work gets taken and used without anything in return, but if they're ok with that I guess that's their prerogative.

GNU/Linux Smartphones are Really Promising

02/04/2022

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PinePhone Pro - very exciting device!

The only device in my life that I currently don't have full access over is my smartphone. Yet, in today's society, this device is mandatory for participation in EVERYTHING. Everything is a mobile app, everything requires 2FA, and they are so embedded in our everyday lives that people look at you funny if you ask for directions. "What, you don't have Google Maps?"

There are a lot of people who dislike the general idea of smartphones. I'm not one of those people. I recognise that smartphones are useful - otherwise they'd have just died off as a fad, but here we are. I personally love the idea of a fully usable computer in my pocket. And that's what smartphones should have been, but instead we've been given locked down platforms where companies control the experience and your data.

I'm surprised that anyone is comfortable using a cellphone running proprietary operating systems. For a lot of people, their smartphone is who they are: their movements throughout the day, their social life, their notes, activities, pictures. Yet they run proprietary software on them where the manufacturer can take and do whatever they want with their information! I'm not going to pretend that I don't use a smartphone because I do - an iPhone 8, as I said earlier it's impossible to avoid smartphones in the current day and age so I try to keep its usage to a minimum. It's funny that Apple is putting out advertisements on billboards and such about how 'privacy focused' the iPhone is but they refuse to prove it by making iOS open-source.

The unfortunate truth about smartphone operating systems is that new ones at this point literally cannot be developed. They just wouldn't get support. Android and iOS have been around for so many years competitors are unviable just by the nature of not having been around for that long. None of the proprietary app developers would make apps for a brand new platform, because nobody is using it and because of that nobody would use it; classic chicken and egg problem.

But here's the silver bullet - Android uses a Linux-based kernel, and so running Android apps in a container without noticeable performance/battery life hit on Linux systems is actually possible and is currently being experimented with. The most promising project in my opinion is Waydroid, but Anbox is a good alternative too.

I strongly believe that in one or two years when the Waydroid/Anbox setup process gets streamlined on something like the PinePhone Pro (I own one of these) GNU/Linux smartphones will become seriously viable daily driver alternatives to iOS and Android because the proprietary apps people rely on (like banking apps, social media, spotify, etc.) will be fully integrated through these containers. And who knows, maybe in 5-10 years we'll have some flagship class devices able to run Linux and free software. In any case, once Waydroid setup gets streamlined on the PinePhone Pro I'll switch to it as my daily driver.

GNU/Linux smartphones have the potential to be a REAL computer in your pocket, that YOU control running software and hardware that's fully open, private and repairable that you can do whatever you want with. I for one am seriously excited about the future of smartphones and at the pace things are going, you should be too.

Windows 8.1 was a Decent Operating System

16/03/2022

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I actually liked Metro...

Everybody likes to hate on Windows 8/8.1 because it came after possibly the most loved Microsoft operating system besides XP, but I actually think it was pretty good taken on its own. Note that I'm talking about 8.1 here and not 8, which had many usability flaws such as removing the start button.

To be honest I kind of liked the Metro UI design of Windows 8.1, it was before flat design fully took over everything and I think it was a nice mix of the design philosophies at the time. You had flat UI elements like the taskbar and the window decorations, but then the icons were still the skeuomorphic designs found in Windows 7 and Vista. It felt modern but familiar, as well as colourful and welcoming. Classic Shell was also available to bring back the old functionality of the Windows 7 start menu if a user preferred it. Add a fully functional version of Control Panel (vs. the AWFUL Windows 10 Settings app) and you've got a good blend.

On a more technical level there were many kernel and performance improvements compared to 7 on the hardware at the time, and this was also a time before Microsoft was forcing their online accounts on users to get full functionality out of their computers, and before their telemetry got obnoxious.

So when you look at Windows 8.1 as a standalone operating system, you have a fresh feeling UI, integration with Microsoft's online services without requiring an account, comparitively little telemetry compared to 10 and perofmance improvements over its predecessor. I'd say it was actually pretty decent.