Don't bother me on my honeymoon.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Builders take note that MacPorts gcc 4.8 is now required; gcc 4.6 will no longer build the browser and even adding back the compatibility shim from 38 will probably not be sufficient (not only will it probably not compile, it won't link either due to required C++11 atomics support). However, I'd still like to get other compiler choices available since MacPorts is kind of a rickety platform base and always subject to some degree of breakage. If people try Sevan's pkgsrc gcc or Misty's Tigerbrew gcc, I'd like to hear your comments about how well they functioned and/or what was needed to get them working.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
TenFourFox gets cited a lot as a successful example of a community-driven Firefox fork (to Tiger PowerPC, for those on our syndicated sites who are unfamiliar), and we're usually what gets pointed to when some open-source project (including Firefox) stops supporting a platform. However, even though we have six years so far of successful ports in the can, we're probably not a great example anymore. While we've had major contributors in the past -- Tobias and Ben in particular, but others as well -- and Chris T still volunteers his time in user support and herds the localizer cats, pretty much all the code and porting work is done entirely by yours truly these days. It's just not the community it was, and it's a lot of work for me personally. Nevertheless, our longevity means the concept of a "TenSixFox" gets brought up periodically with expectations of the same success, as Dan did in his first piece, and as a result a lot of people assume that our kind of lightning will simply strike twice.
Unfortunately, even if you found someone as
Plus, there's another technical problem as well. Currently Firefox can't even be built on 10.6; as of this writing the minimum supported compiler is clang 4.2, which means Xcode 4.6 at minimum, which requires 10.8. This isn't a showstopper yet because cross-building is a viable if inconvenient option, but it makes debugging harder, and since 10.8 is being dropped too it is probable that the Xcode minimum requirement will jump as well.
So if you're that
nuts enthusiastic, and you have the chops, what are your options?
Option 1 is to keep using TenFourFox on Rosetta, with all the performance and functionality limitations that would imply. Let me reiterate that I don't support Intel Macs and I still have no plans to; this project is first and foremost for Power Macs. I know some of you do run it on 10.6 for yuks and some of you even do so preferentially, but there's not going to be another Intel build of TenFourFox unless someone wants to do it themselves. That brings us to ...
Option 3 is to keep building 45ESR for 10.6 after 45ESR support terminates by continuing to port security updates. You won't need to make any changes to the code to get the build off the ground, but you'll need both 10.6 and 10.8 systems to debug and build respectively, and every six weeks you'll have to raid the current ESR branch and backport the changes. You won't get any of the TenFourFox patches and core updates unless you manually add them yourself (and debug them, since we won't support you directly). However, you'll have the option of a 64-bit build and you'll have all the supported 10.6 features as well as support for 10.7 and 10.8.
Finally, option 4 is to keep building firefox-release after 45ESR for 10.6 until it doesn't work anymore. Again, you'll need both 10.6 and 10.8 systems to be effective. This option would get you the most current browser in terms of technology, and even if Electrolysis is currently the default, as long as single-process mode is still available (such as in Safe Mode or for accessibility) you should be able to hack the core to always fall back to it. However, now that 10.6-10.8 support is being dropped, you'll have to undo any checks to prevent building and running on those versions and you might not get many more release cycles before other things break or fail to build. Worst of all, once you get marooned on a particular version between ESRs you'll find backporting security patches harder since you're on a branch that's neither fish nor fowl (from personal experience).
That's about the size of it, and I hope it makes it clear TenFourFox and any putative TenSixFox will exist in very different technological contexts. By the time 45ESR support ends, TenFourFox will have maintained source parity with Firefox for almost seven years and kept up with most of Gecko's major technology advancements, and even the very last G5 to roll off the assembly line will have had 11 years of support. I'm pretty proud of that, and I feel justifiably so. Plus, my commitment to the platform won't end there when we go to feature parity; we'll be keeping a core that can still handle most current sites for at least a couple years to come, because I'll be still using it.
TenSixFox, on the other hand, even if it ends up existing, will lack source parity with Firefox just about from its very beginning. It's not going to be the technological victory that we were at our own inception in 2010, and it's not likely to be the success story we've been for that and other important reasons. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, just that there will be some significant compromises and potential problems, and you'd have to do a substantial amount of work now and in the future to keep it viable. For many of you, that may not be worth it, but for a couple of you, it just might be.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
The motivation for this change is that we have continued failures that are specific to these old operating systems and don't have the resources on engineering teams to prioritize these bugs. Especially with the deployment of e10s we're seeing intermittent and permanently [sic] failures on MacOS 10.6 that we are not seeing elsewhere.
This confirms my suspicions that Electrolysis would have been seriously problematic on 10.4 and 10.5 given the permafails Mozilla is seeing on 10.6, even if we got it to compile (it doesn't even do that on Tiger yet). That's why we're forking after 45ESR, which doesn't have E10S enabled by default.
Interestingly, Mozilla's plan is nearly identical to ours: move 10.6-10.8 users onto 45ESR as well so that they'll still get a year-ish of support on that branch in a sort of graceful wind-down. The difference is that we plan to make hacks to the core to support certain post-45 features (making TenFourFox essentially into an OS X Classilla), and of course backport future security updates from 52ESR and so on. I guess if you're running Snow Leopard you can use TenFourFox post-fork with the usual limitations, but I still currently have no plans for an Intel-native version unless someone steps up to maintain it (although I have a 10.6 machine that might benefit, I just don't have the time right now).
The interesting part is that Mozilla still has more users on 10.6 than 10.7 and 10.8 combined, and 10.6 still accounts for something like 13% of all Firefox Mac users. As late as 2014 19% of all Macs ran it. Snow Leopard really is the Windows XP of the Intel Mac.
Mozilla also did a wholesale pruning of most of the other Tier-3 ports, as part of shifting from autoconf:
Following our official move off autoconf, the core build team is faced with having to convert more than 17k lines of shell+m4. A large part of those are to support Tier-3 platforms such as Solaris, HPUX, AIX, etc., with compilers that are not MSVC, GCC or clang (e.g. SunPro, XL C++...). To simplify the conversion, from day one, we will support only the following set of platforms and toolchains:
- multiple flavors of BSD (kFreeBSD, FreeBSD, DragonFly, NetBSD, OpenBSD)
This is a little different than the end of 10. support, however:
This does not mean Firefox/Gecko/etc. will forever drop support for these platforms and toolchains. It simply means we can't assess what parts of the shell+m4 are relevant (as opposed to cruft accumulated over years or decades) and will continue to work (since we don't have automation to verify these configurations).
The good news is that dropping support now will help make the overall conversion happen sooner, *and*, once the conversion is done, interested parties can come back with working patches that should be easier to write.
My SPARC Ultra-3 laptop (a rebadged Tadpole Viper) runs an ESR build of Firefox just fine in Solaris 10, the last Solaris supported on that platform. Unfortunately I don't have the Sun compiler, or I'd take a whack at building it myself. At least someone out there is still popping out contrib builds for SPARC and i386, but I don't know if they will continue to.
On the other hand, some of those other platforms haven't worked in years. I know of a Firefox 3.6 for AIX, at least on POWER (my PowerPC AIX systems barf on it), but HP/sUX ended support somewhere around 3.5.9 and was always a mess to build (I hated HP's ANSI C-compiler back in the day when I had to administer those systems). I even remember seeing some Digital UNIX/Tru64 stuff deep within xpcom/, but I can't imagine full support persisted much beyond Mozilla 1.8 something. None of the rest of them got much further.
Really, these are all dusty legacies of how portable the old codebase used to be. At one time, Netscape ran on Windows (as early as 3.1), Mac OS (System 7 and up), OS/2, Linux, Digital UNIX (Tru64), SunOS 4, VMS (VAX and Alpha), Solaris, BSD, HP/UX, IRIX, AIX, and probably some other minority ports I don't remember, and all with almost total feature parity. In fact, I myself have personally used every single one of those ports at one time or another. As late as Mozilla 1.7 almost all of those platforms were still working (SunOS 4 and VMS were gone, and Mac OS was replaced with OS X, but the rest were still functioning), but Firefox 2 and 3 gradually winnowed the rest, and by Firefox 4 it was pretty much just Windows, OS X (including us), Linux, the BSDs and Solaris. Soon it'll just be those OSes on x86-64 and ARM.
So, while it may have been hell to maintain, that's a lot of history gone that I personally lived through and good cause or not it still makes me sad to see these last remnants drift away, even on the abandoned platforms. (You can cram it if you're going to post some uninsightful comment like "paying back technological debt" or "no one maintains platforms for free." I'm well aware of the cost of cruft. That doesn't mean it doesn't have historical value, and that historical value should be appreciated, even if doing so is best done in archives rather than current code bases.) It used to be neat to compare how heterogeneous and diverse computing platforms were back in the day, but sadly today's platforms are more alike than they're different, and I think we've lost something there.
It's not really fun anymore.
Friday, March 4, 2016
I finished my Master's coursework on Monday, so now the assault on 45ESR begins in earnest. I forecast about a 70% chance of success since we have a working gcc 4.8 from MacPorts which built 38 successfully and Electrolysis and Rust are not mandatory in 45. 45.0 comes out with 38.7 next week, 45.1 comes out on 19 April (with 38.8) and 45.2 comes out on 7 June, marking the end of support for 38ESR. However, I need to have basic working versions of 40, 41, 42 and 43 first, which I already have local trees for, so I can do regression testing on bugs that crop up in the testing phase.
Ordinarily that would still be ample time since this is more or less a straight port. The complicating factor is me getting married -- yes, folks, I'm off the market to a lovely Australian lady -- which will take about four weeks out of the eight to ten weeks I'll have to complete it (there's a total of twelve-ish weeks in there but I'd like at least two weeks for the localization and for you lot to test it, and even that will be tight), so if needed there will be an unofficial 38.9 to buy us another six by backporting the security patches for 45.2.
That said, that sexy POWER8 workstation can run little-endian. I'm just saying.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Phoronix has also done some early benchmarking on a test system Raptor gave them access to. This is notable because this means the damn thing actually exists. Although OpenBenchmarking calls it "57 cores," that's probably an artifact of SMT (my POWER6 has two cores and two threads per core, so AIX thinks it has four logical cores; my bet is that this is an 8-core system and POWER8 has eight threads per core, with some reserved for the kernel, hence "57"). Raptor has published their own set of benchmarks, but they tested against a Sandy Bridge Xeon and an AMD Opteron 6328, so I'm not sure how useful that comparison is; the Phoronix tests are against more current competitors, which I think is a fairer fight. Although they reported only three tests in that article, on the two tests where the Talos was on equal footing with the other systems (i.e., had access to the same acceleration or there weren't x86-specific optimized paths) it was nearly neck and neck with the top-ranked Xeon and Haswell i7s -- and remember you get the CPU and the motherboard for that $3K. Performance will only get better as the various Linux distros improve their support for the POWER8's capabilities. You can read some other interesting tidbits in the discussion thread.
So, again, if you're at all interested, please put in your (non-binding but do be serious) interest. Rumour has it their threshold is 2,000 units for a production run.