Sunday, January 10, 2021

Another way social media is bad

Social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc., has been in the news this week for obvious reasons due to the political unrest in the United States, where this blog and yours truly are based. For the same obvious reasons I'm not going to discuss that here since I can't moderate such a discussion and there are a million other places to talk about it. Likewise, please don't do so in the comments; I will remove those posts.

But relevant to this blog and this audience is social media's impact on trying to get the most bang for your buck out of your old devices and computers. Full-fat Twitter and Facebook (and others) are computationally expensive: the bells and whistles cost in terms of JavaScript, and there is no shortage of other client-side analytics to feed you the posts to keep you engaged and to monitor your actions to construct ad profiles. A number of our outstanding bugs in TenFourFox are directly due to this, and some can't be fixed without terrible consequences (such as Facebook's asm.js draw code using little-endian floats, which would be a nightmare to constantly byteswap, which is why the reaction icons don't show up), and pretty much none of them are easy to diagnose because all of their code is minified to hell. As they track changes in hardware and the browser base and rely on them, these problems continuously get worse. Most of TenFourFox's development is done by me and me alone and a single developer simply can't keep up with all the Web platform changes anymore.

Moreover, whatever features are available still have to contend with what the hardware is capable of. As our base is overwhelmingly Power Macs, I expect people to realize they are using computers which are no less than 15 years old and often more. We support operating systems with inadequate GPU support and we have to use Carbon APIs, so we will never be 64-bit, even on G5. Built-in basic adblock cuts a lot of fat, and we have a JIT and the fastest JavaScript on any 32-bit PowerPC platform, but it's still not enough. No one at these sites cares about our systems; I've never had any luck with trying to contact developers other than autoreply contact forms and unhelpful support desks which cater to users instead of other devs. Sometimes the sites offer light versions, such as basic Facebook. Some of you use this, some of you won't. However, sometimes the sites offer light versions, but only through mobile-specific apps (like Twitter Lite), so it doesn't help us. Sometimes user agent twiddling can help but many users don't know how or can't be bothered. And their continued availability is always subject to whether the home site wants to continue to supporting them or not because they probably do have impacts in terms of what browsing and activity information they can aggregate.

Many people effectively rate a computer today on how well it can access social media, and a computer that can't is therefore useless. This means you permit these companies to determine when the computer you spent your hard-earned money on should go in the trash. That decision probably won't be made maliciously, but it certainly won't be made to benefit you.

These are private companies and they get to decide how they will spend their money and time. But we, in turn, shouldn't depend on them for anything nor expect anything from them, and we should think about finding ways to extricate ourselves from them and maintain contact with the people we care about in other fashions. On our systems in particular this will only get worse and it doesn't have to. The power they have over our wallets and our public discourse is only — and entirely — because collectively we gave it to them.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Unexpected FPR30 changes because 2020

Well, there were more casualties from the Great Floodgap Power Supply Kablooey of 2020, and one notable additional casualty, because 2020, natch, was my trusty former daily driver Quad G5. Yes, this is the machine that among other tasks builds TenFourFox. The issue is recoverable and I think I can get everything back in order, but due to work and the extent of what appears gone wrong it won't happen before the planned FPR30 release date on December 15 (taking into account it takes about 30 hours to run a complete build cycle).

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know how much I like to be punctual with releases to parallel mainstream Firefox. However, there have been no reported problems from the beta and there are no major security issues that must be patched immediately, so there's a simple workaround: on Monday night Pacific time the beta will simply become the release. If you're already using the beta, then just keep on using it. Since I was already intending to do a security-only release after FPR30 and I wasn't planning to issue a beta for it anyway, anything left over from FPR30 will get rolled into FPR30 SPR1 and this will give me enough cushion to get the G5 back in working order (or at least dust off the spare) for that release on or about January 26. I'm sure all of you will get over it by then. :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Floodgap downtime fixed

I assume some of you will have noticed that Floodgap was down for a couple of days -- though I wouldn't know, since it wasn't receiving E-mail during the downtime. Being 2020 the problem turned out to be a cavalcade of simultaneous major failures including the complete loss of the main network backbone's power supply. Thus is the occasional "joy" of running a home server room. It is now on a backup rerouted supply while new parts are ordered and all services including TenFourFox and gopher.floodgap.com should be back up and running. Note that there will be some reduced redundancy until I can effect definitive repairs but most users shouldn't be affected.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

TenFourFox FPR30b1 available

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 30 beta 1 is now available (downloads, hashes, release notes). I managed to make some good progress on backporting later improvements to the network and URL handling code, so there are no UI-facing features in this release, but the browser should use a bit less memory and run a little quicker especially on pages that reference a lot of resources (which, admittedly, is a lot of sites these days). There is also a minor update to the host database for basic adblock. Assuming all goes well, this release will come out parallel with Firefox 84 on or around December 15. I'll probably do an SPR-only build for the release immediately following to give myself a break; this will contain just needed security fixes, and there will most likely not be a beta.

A few people got bitten by not noticing the locale update, so let me remind everyone that FPR29 needs new locales if you are using a custom langpack. They're linked from the main TenFourFox page and all of them are on SourceForge except for the separately-maintained Japanese version, which I noticed has also been updated to FPR29. If you get a weird error starting TenFourFox and you have a langpack installed, quit the browser and run the new langpack installer and it should fix itself.

Finally, in case you missed it, with the right browser and a side-car TLS 1.2 proxy, you can get A/UX, Power MachTen (on any classic MacOS supporting it) and pre-Tiger Mac OS X able to access modern web pages again. The key advance here is that the same machine can also run the proxy all by itself: no cheating with a second system! Sadly, this does not work as-is with all browsers, including with Classilla, which is something I'll think about allowing as a down payment on proper in-browser support at some future date.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Rosetta 2: This Time It's Personal (and busting an old Rosetta myth)

Apple's back in the RISC camp, though I still hate the name Apple Silicon, as if Apple has some special sauce for certain inorganic elements that makes it any better than any other kind of silicon. With the release of the M1 ("merely" an A14 on steroids by all accounts) a series of benchmarks have been turning up on Geekbench, which because I'm such a big conspiracy theorist I suspect are probably being astroturfed out of Infinite Loop itself. One that particularly attracted my attention, however, is this one which shows Rosetta 2 (the x86_64-on-AARM emulator analogous to the Rosetta PPC-on-Intel emulator in 10.4-10.6) exceeding the single-core performance of Apple's other Intel machines on Intel apps. The revenge-of-the-G5 Mac Pro is conspicuously absent (for the record a cursory search on the 2019 model yields scores from around 1024 to 1116 depending on configuration), but M1 still eclipses it and even edges past the i9 in the current 27" iMac.

That's pretty stupendous, so I'd like to take a moment to once again destroy my least favourite zombie performance myth, that the original Rosetta was faster at running PowerPC apps than PowerPC Macs. This gets endlessly repeated as justification for the 2005 Intel transition and it's false.

We even have some surviving benchmarks from the time. Bare Feats did a series of comparisons of the Mac Pro 2.66, 3.0 and the Quad G5 running various Adobe pro applications, which at the time were only available as PowerPC and had to run in Rosetta. The Mac Pros were clearly faster at Universal binaries with native Intel code, but not only did the Quad G5 consistently beat the 2.66GHz Mac Pro on the tested PowerPC-only apps, it even got by the 3.0GHz at least once, and another particular shootout was even more lopsided. The situation was only marginally better for the laptop side, where, despite a 20% faster clock speed, the MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.0GHz only beat the last and fastest DLSD G4/1.67GHz in one benchmark (and couldn't beat a 2.0GHz G5 at all). Clock-for-clock, the Power Macs were still overall faster on their own apps than the first Intel Macs and it wasn't until native Intel code was available that the new generation became the obvious winner. There may have been many good reasons for Apple making the jump but this particular reason wasn't one of them.

And this mirrors the situation with early Power Macs during the 68K-PPC transition where the first iterations of the built-in 68K emulator were somewhat underwhelming, especially on the 603 which didn't have enough cache for the task until the 603e. The new Power Macs really kicked butt on native code but it took the combination of beefier chips and a better recompiling 68K emulator to comfortably exceed the '040s in 68K app performance.

If the Rosetta 2 benchmarks for the M1 are to be believed, this would be the first time Apple's new architecture indisputably exceeded its old one even on the old architecture's own turf. I don't know if that's enough to make me buy one given Apple's continued lockdown (cough) trajectory, but it's enough to at least make me watch the M1's progress closely.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

TenFourFox FPR29 available

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 29 final is now available for testing (downloads, hashes, release notes). There are no additional changes from the beta except for outstanding security patches. Locale langpacks will accompany this release and should be available simultaneously on or about Monday or Tuesday (November 17 or 18) parallel to mainline Firefox.

Because of the holidays and my work schedule I'm evaluating what might land in the next release and it may be simply a routine security update only to give me some time to catch up on other things. This release would come out on or about December 15 and I would probably not have a beta unless the changes were significant. More as I make a determination.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

TenFourFox FPR29b1 available

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 29 beta 1 is now available (downloads, hashes, release notes). Raphaël's JavaScript toggle is back in the Tools menu but actually OlgaTPark gets most of the credit this release for some important backports from mainline Firefox, including fixes to DOM fetch which should improve a number of sites and adding a key combination (Command-Option-R in the default en-US locale) to toggle Reader View. These features require new locale strings, so expect new language packs with this release (tip of the hat to Chris T who maintains them). The usual bug and security fixes apply as well. FPR29 will come out parallel with Firefox 78.5/83 on or about November 17.

The December release may be an SPR only due to the holidays and my work schedule. More about that a little later.