September 23rd, 2020
Firefox 81 lands as Mozilla spins out its WebThings IoT project, Linux Journal is back, Andrew "bunnie" Huang unveils a new mobile open source hardware platform, Microsoft is previewing Edge on Linux next month, plus so much more.
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Last show I mentioned that it wasn't so much the software that struck me about the latest GNOME release, but rather the distinct change in tone from its developers. For years, the project has seemingly embraced arbitrary change, which has made life very difficult for theme and extension developers — even though it's their work that helps turn the base offering into a productive desktop environment for many users. But the welcome about-face has come too late for at least one coder, as the lead developer of the popular ArcMenu extension is walking away from the project. Announcing his decision, Andy C explicitly called out GNOME's past "aggressive development cycle" for taking the fun out of his work, while giving his thanks to everyone who had supported the project over the years. Luckily on this occasion, the project is being handed over to another ArcMenu developer, so its users won't be left in the lurch. And Andy has also agreed to give the GNOME team feedback on how to build better relations with the extension developer community — which is remarkably decent of him, all things considered.
• ArcMenu Development is Stopping!!! to be continued..
Another developer with a totally different userbase is also stepping away from one of his projects. Raymond Hill, who is best known as the man behind the uBlock Origin and uMatrix browser plugins, has decided to stop maintaining uMatrix. Hill hasn't provided the sort of commentary to explain his decision that Andy C did, but has simply stated that he "can't and won't be spending any more time" on the project, and has archived the uMatrix repository on GitHub.
• uMatrix development has ended
In more upbeat news, the team behind EndeavourOS pushed out a significant release over the weekend. Endeavour is an Arch-based Linux distro that rose from the ashes of Antergos, after that project ended early last year. Since then Endeavour has seen several releases, and alongside the latest update for x86 machines has now also landed a version for Arm devices. As the development team is still fairly small it's only been thoroughly tested on a handful of Odroid single-board computers and the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, but is capable of running on a far wider range of hardware, including the Pinebook Pro.
• The September release and EndeavourOS ARM arrived
Andrew "bunnie" Huang has announced a new mobile open source electronics platform. Huang says that the framework dubbed 'Precursor' is unique in the space as it's been designed from the ground-up to be a complete device rather than a bare-bones circuit board, and comes with a rechargeable battery, keyboard, and display, all housed in an aluminum form-factor similar to a quarter-inch thick mobile phone. The device is also unusual in that it's powered by an FPGA rather than an off-the-shelf SoC, which means that it can emulate different architectures, and provide a degree of user trust not associated with stock silicon. And that ethos runs throughout the entire project, with all of the hardware and software being fully open to user inspection. While there's no indication yet of expected pricing for the device, a pre-launch page has been set up on Crowd Supply with further technical details, which also offers the opportunity to join a mailing list for future project updates.
• Introducing Precursor
WordPress contributors are considering amending the license terms of its Gutenberg rich text editor. While the code behind the editor could be useful for other applications, many mobile developers have balked at including a GPL-licensed component within their own codebases. So WordPress is now consulting its developer community on whether to dual license the code, and make most of it available under version 2 of the Mozilla Public license, in addition to the GPLv2.
• Proposal: Dual licensing Gutenberg under GPL v2.0 and MPL v2.0
Firefox 81 has been released. The update adds support for controlling media playback using keyboard and headset hardware buttons, a refreshed PDF viewer, and a new colorful theme that comes preinstalled but not activated. For US and Canadian users, the browser can now manage and autofill credit card information, while enterprise users running version 68 of the Extended Support Release will find themselves starting to be automatically upgraded to version 78. Meanwhile, Mozilla has continued cutting costs, with its WebThings project just the latest to be defunded. The good news for users is that WebThings is being spun out as a separate community-supported endeavor, rather than simply being shut down altogether. The newly-independent project has also promised to provide replacement remote gateway access services to its users before Mozilla pulls the plug on its own infrastructure at the end of the year. But the biggest long-term impact of the change may be that the project will find it far harder to make its voice heard in the competitive IoT space, now that it's lost the backing of a household name.
• Firefox 81.0 Release Notes
• An Important Update on Mozilla WebThings
One of the big winners so far in the consumer IoT space has been Amazon, and the company has finally started to spell out how its Sidewalk project will operate. Originally first announced a year ago, details about the intermediate-range networking system had been thin on the ground until this week, when Amazon published a white paper and began talking about it again, ahead of the company unveiling its new lineup of smart devices. Amazon is hoping that existing customers will be happy to see their Echo and Ring devices be used as bridges within the neighborhood networks that it's looking to set up, and it appears to have put a fair bit of thought into the security and bandwidth implications of its plans. The company is also keen to see more third-party products certified for use with Sidewalk, and has announced that Tile will be launching a compatible Bluetooth tracking device in the near future.
• Amazon Sidewalk Privacy and Security Whitepaper
• Amazon Sidewalk: a new way to stay connected
A decision by another of the tech giants has upset a lot of developers in the last few days. Google has announced that it intends to stop providing payment processing and license management functionality for developers who make money through its Chrome Web Store. And to rub salt into the wound, Google isn't going to allow developers to export a bulk list of their existing customers, but will be forcing them to jump through additional hoops in order to maintain contact with them.
• Chrome Web Store payments deprecation
• Hacker News: Chrome Web Store payments deprecation
On a far more positive note, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation is again taking part in the CommunityBridge Mentorship program, and is looking for developers that projects can mentor through the last quarter of the year. The Foundation has collated a list of twenty-two small projects in the cloud technology space that need to be tackled, and the opportunity to work on any of them could provide valuable experience for developers wanting to expand their skill-sets, while helping out the broader open source ecosystem.
• Calling all Mentees: CNCF CommunityBridge Projects for the Fall 2020 Program
And finally, it's been announced that Slashdot Media has taken over Linux Journal. While previous attempts to resurrect the magazine have foundered, this time could well be different — both because of the financial muscle behind the deal, and also as current plans only extend to free online content, sidestepping the problems of legacy print media. The new owners have put out a call for contributors, and hope to start publishing again as soon as they can. So welcome back, Linux Journal!
• Linux Journal is Back