Tag Archives: Software

How Open Source Software Is Defining the Future of Mobile Connectivity





Mobile operators face intense pressure to deliver more data, faster connectivity, better coverage and more functionality to end users who are (unfortunately) more demanding than ever. Increasingly, these end users will not be people as we know them but rather Internet of Things (IoT) devices. IDC has projected that by 2025, 60% of the world’s data will be generated by enterprises, double its level in 2017, largely due to the growth in connected devices, sensors, automation and related equipment.
Source: DevOps



Free Software Foundation Certifies Talos II With Respecting Your Freedom


FREE SOFTWARE --

The Free Software Foundation’s “Respect Your Freedom” program has tended to mostly endorse products like old motherboards re-flashed with Coreboot/Libreboot along with dated networking products and obscure products like USB microphones and USB to parallel printer port cables. But today comes the Free Software Foundation’s most prominent RYF endorsement.

The Free Software Foundation has finally awarded Raptor Computing Systems’ Talos II and Talos II Lite motherboards with Respect Your Freedom certifications. This makes the Talos II / Talos II Lite the most prominent boards/systems to hold this endorsement as well as being the fastest ones on the market — much better than the generally old/outdated motherboards they normally endorse of motherboards “freed” by third-party ventures running Libreboot/Coreboot on tier-one OEM boards.

The Talos II like Raptor’s other products are designed from the start to be libre offerings and delivering maximum freedom and user privacy. With the use of the POWER9 processors, the boards are open-source from the schematics through the low-level firmware bits.

Raptor is also pursuing RYF certification on their lower-cost Blackbird motherboard.

More details on today’s Talos II endorsement via FSF.org.


Microsoft’s Chromium-Based Edge Browser Available as Release Candidate | Software


By Jack M. Germain

Nov 5, 2019 12:10 PM PT

Along with unveiling its new Edge browser logo, Microsoft on Monday announced the official launch date of its nearly finished Chromium-based Edge browser and made its Release Candidate
available for download immediately.

The latest beta edition of the browser is stable enough for anyone to use, Microsoft said, and it will help IT admins prepare for the Jan. 15 rollout.

Microsoft last year announced its intention to rely on the Chromium open source project in developing Microsoft Edge for the desktop to create better Web compatibility and to reduce fragmentation for all Web developers. The upcoming rollout will make the new Edge browser available for Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8 and macOS.

So far, Microsoft has not announced plans for an Edge browser version that runs on the Linux operating system.

The launch of Microsoft Edge will have a dramatic impact on the Web ecosystem. Originally, the Web was dominated by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. That set the stage for many years of stagnation in Web development because Web applications needed to be tied to old versions of IE, according to Thomas Hatch, CTO of
SaltStack.

“The dominance of IE slowed the market and hurt innovation in some regards. However, it did make it easy for companies to know that they could create stable content that would run on old browsers,” he told LinuxInsider.

New Browser Dominance

The release of Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser could create a problem due to the new dominance of the Chromium engine. This change will make Chromium the browser foundation for close to 90 percent of Web users, with Firefox as runner-up, noted Hatch.

The potential exists for the stagnation of new innovations for Web browsers from the loss of browser competition, he pointed out. Plus, there is the risk of Google’s control being used to damage competitors’ ability to deliver Web products.

The technology change for Microsoft, however, could be a boost for new collaborative efforts between Microsoft and Google, whose proprietary version of the Chrome browser is based on the open source Chromium browser. That mix could foster collaboration and accelerate the development of the Web — not the other way around, Hatch suggested.

Web Standardization vs. Browser Domination

Microsoft’s new browser release is more apt to standardize the Web platform on a single core codebase. It means the Web standards most likely should reach consumers and enterprises faster, because they will not be hung up in three or four implementations, sort of teasing out what works and does not work in parallel, observed Chris Love, a progressive Web apps developer at
Love2Dev.

“The primary browser vendors — Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Samsung — already collaborate a lot to define the Web platform standards and specifications. The real problem is they more or less agree to a specification, then go develop in different codebases,” he told LinuxInsider.

Microsoft, Google, Samsung, and a few other vendors more or less work together now, reducing the amount of duplicate work. As a Web developer, Love just needs a specification that he can trust and not have to worry about quirks with different browsers, he explained.

Under the Hood

Microsoft’s browser logo redesign clearly suggests a new Edge. It is the only visible sign, besides the Bing search interface and the unplugged Google ecosystem, that the new Edge browser is not another retread of IE.

Otherwise, the user interface nearly identical to the look and feel of the Chrome browser. Its UI is very familiar.

The Microsoft Edge logo has a fluent design style that ties in with Microsoft’s new Office icons. The Edge “E” resembles a wave.

Microsoft is pitching Edge Chromium directly at enterprise users. The company is describing Edge as “the browser for business” with “core security architecture” that IT professionals already are using.

Other Edge features:

  • New Microsoft Search capabilities in Bing to save time searching for information inside your company;
  • Three ecosystem partners — Accenture, BA Insight and Raytion — provide a Microsoft Graph connectors preview. It expands the reach of search for Microsoft 365 customers, with the addition of more than 100 connectors, including Salesforce.com, ServiceNow, Box and more;
  • The ability to access Microsoft Search in Bing on mobile phones;
  • New tracking prevention by default;
  • SmartScreen and Tracking prevention to help protect users from phishing schemes, malicious software and cryptojacking malware; and
  • InPrivate mode across so online searches and browsing are not attributed to the user.

Built-In Edge Advantages

Microsoft did a decent job of building and maintaining its own browser engine, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, but it never was a match for Google Chrome.

“Adopting the Chromium engine should result in faster and more secure performance, along with greater levels of website compatibility,” he told LinuxInsider.

Usability over the previous IE and earlier Edge versions are a big advantage, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

After using Edge versions for the last few months, he can rely on this browser, he told LinuxInsider, whereas previously he had to switch between IE, Edge and Chrome, and often Firefox, to get some things done.

“I’m largely back to living in one browser again, thanks to this offering,” Enderle told LinuxInsider. “It is the best of both worlds, compatible with IT policy and massively compatible with the Web. It is an impressive blend of technologies.”

The Edge browser is a rarity in that it is unusual to see a major vendor do something like this where they put the customer in front of their own “not-invented-here” mentality he observed.

Path Less Traveled

Microsoft’s decision to grab Chromium code as a base for its IE/Edge browser replacement may be a good strategy. Still, it is a bit odd to see a company with a long history of claiming technological superiority — even when there was scant supporting evidence — take a back seat to a competitor, suggested Pund-IT’s King.

“That is even more pronounced given the focus here on browser technologies, where Microsoft was once the undisputed market leader. Some might claim that the move denigrates Microsoft’s brand, but I’d argue that it also demonstrates a level of maturity that speaks well of the company and its leadership.” he said.

Putting the customer first is always a superior strategy, but using a competitor’s technology to do so is rarely done, even though that path often would be better for the user, Enderle noted.

“Typically, competitive concerns and image concerns keep companies from doing this — but times are changing, and the concept of open source has firms thinking differently. I think this is a showcase of that different thinking,” he said.

Ulterior Motives Possible

Microsoft’s use of the Chromium code base is not really about the browser benefits at all. If it were, Microsoft would have gotten out of the game long ago, suggested Arle Lommel, senior analyst at
CSA Research.

“Instead, it is about a strategic bid for enterprise customers to cement them into the Office 365 ecosystem,” he told LinuxInsider.

Browsers are an essential tool for consumers and businesses alike, but they are not a direct moneymaker for their developers. Instead, they are a driver for other services, such as search and ad revenue for Google with Chrome, Lommel explained.

Microsoft has fallen behind and has no realistic prospects to get people to switch back to a proprietary browser base. Earlier incarnations of Edge suffered from performance issues compared to Chromium, and were regarded as a warmed-over version of Internet Explorer, he added.

“So Microsoft has nothing to lose by jumping on a common platform that improves compatibility for its customers,” Lommel said.

It only takes a few cases of not being able to access a critical site before people stop using Edge and move to Chrome because it “just works,” he noted. If Google’s offering is seen as better, it is just another step to its enterprise offerings.

“Microsoft’s play is to use the platform to bring enterprise customers into using its additional services,” Lommel reasoned.

Will Users Flock to Edge?

Edge’s allure for users is the crux of Microsoft’s new browser strategy. It has the potential for putting a new spin on the “browser wars revisited” scenario.

The traditional Microsoft Edge user will stay, and more Windows users will switch to the new Edge browser from Chrome, predicted SaltStack’s Hatch.

“This is a potential win for everyone. Google still gets to control the Web; Microsoft saves money and gets a better seat at the table to move the Web forward; and the sheer size of the new gorilla in the room will push people to Firefox — giving the Mozilla Foundation a new lease on life,” said Hatch.

Consumer Needs Differ From IT

Some computer users might be inclined to adopt the new Chromium-based Microsoft browser. More likely, others will stay with their current choice or move to a different option.

Consumers rarely change the default option when they get a new computer, but browser selection seems to be one of the few decisions that inspires a slightly higher effort, according to Love2Dev’s Love.

For Windows users who get new devices, it will be interesting to see if they bother changing browsers with the new Edge as the default on a new computer. For users of other platforms, Love does not foresee any tangible user base gains.

“Mac and Linux users are pretty well entrenched with Chrome and FireFox, which means they made the deliberate effort to install their choice and Edge was never an option,” he said.

It all might come down to who the users are, said Enderle.

Corporate users who want Chrome compatibility with Edge compliance will be motivated to switch. Consumers may be happy where they are, and happy users tend to be hard to move, he said.

“Microsoft cannot disparage Chrome because it is at the core of its solution,” Enderle pointed out. “So their process has to focus on making users see the advantages of the blended offering, and the strongest advantage is likely security, which, given the threat level, could be enough to drive a change.”


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Linux Inside Azure Sphere on the Horizon | Software


By Jack M. Germain

Oct 30, 2019 12:16 PM PT

Azure Sphere will be generally available in Feb 2020, Microsoft announced at the IoT Solutions World Congress on Monday. Its scheduled arrival highlights Microsoft’s readiness to fulfill its promise for better Internet of Things device security at scale, company officials said.

Microsoft first introduced Azure Sphere in 2018, opting to use its own version of a Linux operating system instead of Windows 10 to drive its new Azure Sphere OS to securely connect Internet of Things devices.

Security is one of the leading barriers to IoT adoption. Microsoft hopes to lock down IoT device security with its cloud-based delivery solution.

The number of connected devices is expected to reach 20 billion in 2020.

Microsoft expects IoT adoption to accelerate to provide connectivity to hundreds of billions of devices. Such massive growth would increase the stakes for unsecured devices.

Enterprise customers would buy at least 70 percent more IoT devices if their
concerns about cybersecurity were addressed, suggests research from Bain & Company.

Microsoft sees its mission as empowering organizations to create and connect secure, trustworthy IoT devices in order to encourage innovation.

Azure Sphere is a platform connecting microcontroller units embedded within IoT devices connected to the cloud. The platform operates a new MCU crossover class that combines both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity. Each chip includes custom silicon security technology Microsoft developed.

“The Azure Sphere system leverages IoT security by embedding hardened chips with a Linux OS, building in security to the devices’ manufacturing rather than making it an afterthought,” noted Gabe Turner, director of content at
Security Baron.

The chip is an extension of the i.Mx8 applications processor series optimized for power and performance, specifically for artificial intelligence graphics and an improved user interface experience overall, he told LinuxInsider.

The new Azure Sphere-certified chips are based on Microsoft’s 15 years of experience with Xbox, to secure this new class of MCUs and the devices they power.

High Impact for IoT Security

In essence, with Azure Sphere Microsoft is productizing security for IoT-enabled or connected devices, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Since the platform includes a custom microcontroller, a high-level operating system, and a services platform, manufacturers can use Azure Sphere to enable and support IoT functions in a wide variety of products, from smart speakers to major appliances to factory equipment, he noted.

“That should improve the value, safety and security of those products and make them more attractive to consumers and businesses,” King told LinuxInsider.

Given Microsoft’s size and market footprint, Azure Sphere may help bring some order to an IoT market that is complex and somewhat fractious, especially when it comes to security products and protocols, he suggested. Over time, manufacturers and developers may come to see Azure Sphere as a safe choice for securely enabling IoT.

Linux Leverage

Azure Sphere leverages a custom Linux-based kernel. The kernel runs in supervisor mode, along with a boot loader, and is tuned for the flash and RAM capabilities of the Azure Sphere MCU.

The kernel provides a surface for preemptable process execution, and the driver model exposes MCU peripherals to OS services and applications. Its relative lightness and ability to support targeted processes make Linux a great choice for Azure Sphere, King pointed out.

Silicon Delivers

Microsoft plans to deliver on its Azure Sphere mission through several strategic investments and partnerships. Partnering with silicon leaders is a key part of that plan.

The company has forged three key partnerships to lock down IoT security:

  • MediaTek’s MT3620, the first Azure Sphere certified chip produced, is designed to meet the needs of the more traditional MCU space, including in WiFi-enabled scenarios.
  • NXP Semiconductors delivered a new Azure Sphere certified chip as an extension of its i.MX 8 high-performance applications processor series optimized for performance and power, to bring greater compute capabilities that support advanced workloads from artificial intelligence and graphics.
  • Qualcomm delivered the first cellular-enabled Azure Sphere chip With ultra-low-power capabilities for greater freedom to securely connect anytime, anywhere.

Hardware Connectivity

A diverse hardware ecosystem will simplify the process of connecting enterprise equipment, noted Microsoft. Guardian modules will make it easier to bring existing hardware online without risking and jeopardizing mission-critical equipment. Guardian modules plug into existing physical interfaces on equipment and can be deployed with common technical skill sets that require no device redesign.

The deployment is fast, does not require equipment to be replaced before its end of life, and quickly pays for itself, according to Microsoft. The first guardian modules are available from
Avnet and
AI-Link.

Using the right developer tools for better apps helps solve IoT connectivity issues. Microsoft began that effort last month when it released its SDK preview for Visual Studio. Microsoft soon will have an SDK for Linux and support for Visual Studio Code.

The company has made it quicker and simpler to develop, deploy and debug Azure Sphere apps since then. A set of samples and solutions on GitHub provide easy building blocks for developers to get started.

Microsoft is working on ways to help manufacturers secure and service their connected devices by leverage existing code running on a Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS) or bare-metal. One approach is to enable the M4 core processors embedded in the MediaTek MT3620 chip.

This makes it easy to enhance MCU code to send and receive data via the protection of a partner app running on the Azure Sphere OS. It can be updated seamlessly in the field to add features or to address issues.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Highly Threaded Linux Software Running Under CFS Quotas See Big Performance Fix


LINUX KERNEL --

Thanks to a Linux kernel fix that is likely to be back-ported to the various stable series, highly threaded software running under CFS quotas for enforcing CPU limits are about to be much faster. At least in a synthetic test case, the kernel fix yields a 30x improvement in performance.

Spotted by the Kubernetes community but affecting others with highly threaded workloads and making use of a CFS quota to restricted shared CPU resources, it turns out that highly-threaded applications are routinely not getting “their fair share” of the CPU, leading to lower than expected performance and higher latency.

This has been a known bug for more than one year and a kernel bug report on unexpected CFS throttling since late 2017. The issue is believed to be recently fixed up for mainline Linux 5.4 and pending for back-ports after the patch was volleyed around the kernel mailing list for a few months.

There is the fix that is a few dozen lines of code that removes the expiration of CPU-local slices:

It has been observed, that highly-threaded, non-cpu-bound applications running under cpu.cfs_quota_us constraints can hit a high percentage of periods throttled while simultaneously not consuming the allocated amount of quota. This use case is typical of user-interactive non-cpu bound applications, such as those running in kubernetes or mesos when run on multiple cpu cores.

This greatly improves performance of high-thread-count, non-cpu bound applications with low cfs_quota_us allocation on high-core-count machines. In the case of an artificial testcase (10ms/100ms of quota on 80 CPU machine), this commit resulted in almost 30x performance improvement, while still maintaining correct cpu quota restrictions.

Thanks to Phoronix reader Mark for pointing out this recent kernel change.