Apple exec refused ‘Kill Dock’ bribe

Darwin boss loyal to the core dump


BSDCon An Apple executive turned down an offer to sabotage the Mac OS X code tree, yesterday, we can sort of exclusively reveal.

The nefarious approach to Apple's director of core OS engineering Brett Halle - a member of the executive team which made the momentous decision on what should be the successor to MacOS back in 1996 - took place at BSDCon in San Francisco yesterday.

And we take full responsibility.

A transcript of the conversation went something like this...

Register: So how much beer would we need to buy you to sneak into the code tree and run the following command - find . -print | grep -i dock | xargs rm

Halle: Hey, I like the Dock!

Well, we did try our best, dear readers. Next time we'll have to raise the offer to two beers, or maybe some claret and some Cuban cigars.

Halle presented the morning keynote on Day Two of the annual USENIX BSDCon, in what was a very well received presentation. Despite some grumblings, which we'll address in a moment.

He also kindly gave us a half-hour to elaborate on Darwin's role in Mac OS X, which you may also be interested in.

Parallel Universe

The effort required to marry the two worlds was detailed in Brett's keynote. In OS X they're parallel universes, really: the BSD layer has different package management; it's own character format; it's even in its own timezone, too. This isn't apparent if you use an Apple computer in Pacific Time, it's really obvious if you use an Apple in London. (As I discovered when I began to encode some raw AIFFs in lame).

Halle's had plenty of experience with Unix at Apple. He worked on Apple's previous UNIX, A/UX. and started the mklinux effort, he told us.

Was this part of the thinking behind acquiring NeXT, then?

Very much so, said Brett. "BeOS was interesting, but not broad, and would have required considerable investment"

(Long time readers can fill in the sound of us chaffing here.).

Part of the thinking was being able to leverage the Unix technology from NeXT. The NeXT talent was really excellent."

(You'd have heard more chaffing from your correspondent at this point.)

But wasn't NeXT kind of moribund, if not already in mothballs, we wondered? I mean it wasn't up to date back in 1996...?

"Sure there was a lot of work updating it to FreeBSD 4.4. The Mach kernel was updated, the I/O was updated..."

Ah, now the kernel in Mac OS X is a Mach kernel in all but name, right? It isn't the Mach kernel as envisaged all those years ago for obvious reasons...

"Well the Mach we're using is based on the OSF/1 7,3, and that was evolved from Mach 3.0, which was a research project into a pure microkernel architecture. It was running in a separate address space."

"Intellectually that was a very interesting exercise but in practical terms, in reality, the trade-offs don't make sense.

"So we took BSD, and there they're layered but tightly coupled, so were able to leverage that better. Mach is a good abstraction layer though and enabled us to get to SMP much quicker, for example."

What's next on the roadmap for Darwin?

"We're looking at networking and data security. There's a lot of details but the Apple engineering organisation is very much a collaborative process - it's not like some separate group."

Now one obvious and immediate win is the excellent power management support in X. How did that come about - did Apple follow the APM and ACPI standards?

"It's similar but we have our own power management. We call them 'Power Plans' - how the power is managed when certain devices are idle. The I/O system ends up building up a graph or a hierarchy of devices in the system."

Has Apple plans to devise a new file system, maybe one with journaling capabilities?

"Well journaling-like qualities are certainly needed - drives get larger and larger and it's an issue for scaling that affects everyone. Whether you're using a portable, or if you're going to use it as a digital hub handling MP3s, or whether you're handling gigabytes of video.

"[Marshall] McCusick has done some work to on that to ensure that it is internally consistent without being a new file system. He had a session on that here, and it achieves some of the goals. There are some really interesting options.

"But right now we use BSD vfs for everything - we have a number of file-system plug-ins for UFS, for NFS, for HFS+"

So it's all, all vfs underneath?

"Yes."

Halle stressed the need for collaboration, but one or two voices of dissent were heard.

Who are you calling geek?
Wasabi's Perry Metzger was baffled to hear Apple's concerns about forward compatiblity:

"This problem has already been solved - we can run 0.8 BSD executables on VAXs running SystemVr3 sources that have are in production 15 years after the things were compiled - and stuff just works All of our syscalls are still there."

"They're new here, and I wish they'd appreciate that they need to give back before they can start telling us what to do," said one commercial BSD user.

One past chair of the conference was even offended by Brett's affectionate use of the word "geek" -

"I do object very strenuously to the Unix bashing and name calling - referring to geeks, instead of the professionals does you no good!" he said.

No, really.

"I'm a geek and I'm proud of it!" responded one member of the audience.

"Hey! When I can have a three button trackpad?" asked another.

It was all good clean fun.

But the audience appreciated the effort to make Unix friendly, or effectively 'disappear' from the consumer. The concept of root administrator summed up Apple's dilemma best. It was demanding and complex to set UIDs in a rigid work environment, but home use called for something far more fluid.

Halle won a storming round of applause for shipping a system with the network vulnerabilities turned off by default, a point praised by many questioners.

Then it was back to the UI grumbles, which will dog this fine OS until they're fixed. Halle said performance was monitored at every stage, and was a high priority.

Dock strike

We were however thwarted in our strategy to scupper the Dock, alas.

How long before the Dock becomes like Microsoft's Clippy the Paperclip - an emblem so widely loathed that Apple's only chance of redeeming its human-interface reputation is to stage a public execution?

The Dock is hated by Mac veterans, who see it as a jack-of-all trade replacement for the combination of switcher, Apple menu and control strip. It's hated by NeXT veterans, who see it as an equally inadequate replacement for NeXT's elegant Dock and Shelf combination. It's hated by newbies - who as one questioner so eloquently put it yesterday (hi Brett) - can't make out one damn fuzzy icon from the next on a fully loaded system.

And it's hated by me, for all the reasons cited above, but most of all because the Cmd-Tab combo doesn't follow the Window Z-order. I'm funny like that.

(Yes - you can hide it, but the vacuum generated by disappearing CPU cycles as it slides out, then back again is enough to make my ears pop.)

Like an unloved Liberian-registered container ship full of nuclear waste, the Dock is making its lonely way across the screen, being bounced from port to port. It was at the bottom, now it's on the left, and hopefully soon it will run out of locations to take its foul cargo and slither out of our consciousness forever; only to live on as a 'do you remember...?' tech trivia question, like the DEC Rainbow or Microsoft's 8-bit MSX games console.

Our offer still stands. Anyone at Apple for a Havana? ®


Other stories you might like

  • What's the big deal with service meshes? Think of them as SDN at Layer 7

    A technical yet demystifying dive into networking tech you now can't avoid

    Systems Approach I remember when I first heard about Service Meshes in 2017, and wondering what the big deal was. Building cloud applications as a graph of microservices was commonplace, and telcos were hard at work inventing yet other ways to chain together virtualized network functions. Service graphs, service chains, service meshes… how many ways do we really need to talk about composing complex systems from a collection of smaller components?

    It wasn’t until I recognized a familiar pattern that I got it: a Service Mesh is just SDN at Layer 7. That’s probably what happens when SDN is the hammer you keep hitting nails with, but I’ve come to believe there is value in that perspective.

    The figure below highlights the similarities between the two scenarios, both of which include a centralized controller that issues directives to a distributed set of connectors (physical/virtual switches in one case, and a sidecar container in the other case) — based on a combination of policy intents from above and monitoring data reported from below. The primary difference is that the SDN controller on the left is controlling L2/3 connectivity and the Service Mesh on the right is controlling L7 connectivity.

    Continue reading
  • Mars race: China dreams of nuclear rockets, manned bases, and space elevators

    We're looking forward to the late 21st-century colony wars

    Over the next quarter century, China wants to set up a permanent base on Mars for "large scale development of the Red Planet," and install a sci-fi carbon-nanotube elevator to shuttle goods between the surface and spacecraft in orbit.

    That’s according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the country’s largest rocket maker, which described a road-map outlining the Middle Kingdom's ambition to explore the unforgiving dust world. Missions to Mars are planned for 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041, and 2043 quite possibly using nuclear-propelled spacecraft.

    In a speech, CALT’s President Wang Xiaojun said his state-owned organization first intends to send robots to Mars to collect samples of material to study back on Earth. These machines will also scout out good locations to develop a human settlement.

    Continue reading
  • Bridging the observability gap

    Trace the journey through all those microservices in the background

    Sponsored In modern IT, visibility is everything. IT admins and Site Reliability Engineers (SRE) survive on their ability to see what's happening in their systems. Unfortunately, as systems get more sophisticated, it has become harder to see what they're doing. That's why the industry is promoting observability as the evolution of existing concepts like monitoring and metrics. Vendors are stepping up with tools to address a growing visibility gap.

    Continue reading
  • Google: About that whole getting rid of third-party cookies thing – we're gonna need another year or so

    Plan to reinvent advertising turns out to be more difficult than expected

    Google, which makes the only major browser not blocking third-party cookies by default, has revised its commitment to phase out third-party cookies by 2022.

    The super-corp's biscotticide is now scheduled to begin in mid-2023 and run through late 2023.

    Third-party cookies refer to tracking files deposited in one's browser when visiting a website that includes code interacting with third-party domains. The firms associated with these domains, typically marketing and analytics businesses, check for the presence of their cookies across different websites and use this information to build marketing profiles and to target ads based on behavior.

    Continue reading
  • These six proposed bipartisan antitrust laws put Big Tech in the cross-hairs – and a House committee just OK'd them

    Well, it's a start

    The US House Judiciary Committee this week approved half a dozen major bipartisan antitrust bills aimed at clamping down on the growing power of Big Tech and its monopolization of some markets.

    The panel, led by Jerry Nadler (D-NY), debated for nearly 30 hours on Wednesday and Thursday to advance the wide-sweeping six-bill package. The proposed laws includes all sorts of measures to prevent companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others from dominating their sectors of the technology industry.

    There was likely plenty of lobbying and other wrangling going on in the back and foreground over the exact wording of the package. For instance, there was a concern by some lawmakers that Microsoft would end up avoiding certain provisions in the proposed acts that would otherwise hit Google and Apple. Tweaks were made – such as removing "mobile" from "mobile operating system" in the fine-print – to ensure no one was wriggling out.

    Continue reading
  • You won't want that Linux bling if it comes from Pling: Marketplace platform has critical vulnerabilities

    No one wants to be pwned by a drive-by RCE

    A Berlin startup has disclosed a remote-code-execution (RCE) vulnerability and a wormable cross-site-scripting (XSS) flaw in Pling, which is used by various Linux desktop theme marketplaces.

    Positive Security, which found the holes and is not to be confused with Russia’s Positive Technologies, said the bugs are still present in the Pling code and its maintainers have not responded to vulnerability reports.

    Pling presents itself as a marketplace for creative folk to upload Linux desktop themes and graphics, among other things, in the hope of making a few quid from supporters. It comes in two parts: code needed to run your own bling bazaar, and an Electron-based app users can install to manage their themes from a Pling souk. The web code has the XSS in it, and the client has the XSS and an RCE. Pling powers a bunch of sites, from pling.com and store.kde.org to gnome-look.org and xfce-look.org.

    Continue reading
  • Would-be password-killer FIDO Alliance aims to boost uptake with new UX guidelines

    Throws a bone to complex enterprise deployment, too

    The FIDO Alliance, which operates with no smaller mission than to "reduce the world's over-reliance on passwords", has announced the release of new user experience (UX) guidelines aimed at bringing the more technophobic on board.

    Launched back in 2013 as the Fast Identity Online Alliance, the FIDO Alliance aims to do away with passwords altogether through the introduction of standards-compliant "authenticators" including USB security dongles, fingerprint readers, Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) and more.

    While the organisation's standards, which were updated with the launch of FIDO2 in 2018, have enjoyed adoption in the majority of web browsers and with a range of companies, they're still seen as unusual and even inconvenient compared to the good ol' username and password combo – which is where the new UX guidelines come in.

    Continue reading
  • UK's Vodafone network runs trials on standalone 5G in London, Manchester and Cardiff

    These are networks that are not dragged down by LTE core

    Vodafone has launched 5G SA (Standalone) trials in London, Manchester, and Cardiff in its largest test of the technology yet.

    The commercial launch has allowed the carrier to experiment with new ways to commercialise its network, including network slicing – where a portion of network is dedicated to a specific customer for their exclusive use. It will also allow customers to test 5G SA devices on a live, public network.

    Vodafone selected Ericsson's dual-mode 5G core network as the dedicated provider for this trial. It follows trials at Coventry University in 2020, and a separate trial in Spain.

    Continue reading
  • What you need to know about Microsoft Windows 11: It will run Android apps

    The operating system they said shouldn't exist

    Microsoft on Thursday announced Windows 11, or tried to as an uncooperative video stream left many viewers of the virtual event flummoxed by intermittent transmission gaps in the opening minutes.

    The technical issues proved bad enough that Matt Velloso, Technical Advisor to the CEO at Microsoft, suggested trying the YouTube video stream as an alternative to the Microsoft-hosted one.

    But with some of the features already known as a result of a leaked build last week, the impact of the intermittent video dropouts was less than it might have been.

    Continue reading
  • Russia spoofed AIS data to fake British warship's course days before Crimea guns showdown

    Great powers clash while the rest of us sigh and tut at data feed meddling

    Russia was back up to its age-old spoofing of GPS tracks earlier this week before a showdown between British destroyer HMS Defender and coastguard ships near occupied Crimea in the Black Sea.

    Yesterday Defender briefly sailed through Ukrainian waters, triggering the Russian Navy and coastguard into sending patrol boats and anti-shipping aircraft to buzz the British warship in a fruitless effort to divert her away from occupied Crimea's waters.

    Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and has occupied parts of the region, mostly in the Crimean peninsula, ever since. The UK and other NATO allies do not recognise Ukraine as enemy-held territory so Defender was sailing through an ally's waters – and doing so through a published traffic separation scheme (similar to the TSS in the English Channel), as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed this afternoon.*

    Continue reading
  • Lego bricks, upcycled iPhone lenses used in new low-cost, high-res microscope

    Full instructions given away for free, to 'nurture natural curiosity'

    A trio of boffins at the Georg August University Göttingen and Münster University have put together a low-cost yet high-resolution microscope for educational users – using smartphone parts and Lego bricks.

    "An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many benefits in everyday life, such as problem-solving and creativity," said Timo Betz, professor at the University of Göttingen and co-author of the paper detailing the project. “Yet we find that many people, even politicians, feel excluded or do not have the opportunities to engage in scientific or critical thinking.

    "We wanted to find a way to nurture natural curiosity, help people grasp fundamental principles and see the potential of science."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021