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Linux Foundation whacks open JavaScript projects umbrella

JS Foundation: It's raining devs...

18 Oct 2016 at Gavin Clarke
Linux Foundation
Linux Foundation

A project fostering JavaScript’s panoply of projects has been established by the Linux Foundation.

The JS Foundation will cultivate JavaScript application and server-side projects. The thinking is to create a centre that drives broad adoption and development of JavaScript technologies and that fosters collaboration. It should help devs and tools builders make sense of the rapid pace of change.

The focus on standardization and mentoring, JS Foundation executive director Kris Borchers told the Open Source Business Conference in London on Monday. The Linux Foundation and Node.JS will, in particular, work to advance the JavaScript language through bodies such as ECMA TC39 and the W3C.

Also, there’ll be mentoring of projects around core principles of JavaScript.

Borchers told OSCON the object is to build a center of gravity around JavaScript by brining together projects.

“We want to focus on brining a center of gravity for that innovation and giving a home for a community to gather and sift through and know what’s going on in the JavaScript space and where they are focused next,” he told OSCON.

“By bringing people together it will be a focal point for collaboration so people know what project need help and how to get involved.

Initial projects include Appium, Interledger.js, JerryScript, Mocha, Momentum.js. Node-Red and webpack.

Founding members are IBM, Samsung, Sauce Labs, Bocoup, Ripple, Sense Tecnic Systems, Sitepen, StackPath, the University of Westminster and WebsiteSetup


Linus Torvalds teaches devs a lesson with early rc1 release

Bits of Google's dead Project Ara modular mobe live on in Linux 4.9

18 Oct 2016 at Simon Sharwood

Google may have killed off its modular smartphone Project Ara idea, but some of the code that would have made it happen looks like coming to the Linux Kernel.

So says none other than Linus Torvalds himself, in his Linux Kernel Mailing List post announcing the first release candidate of Linux 4.9.

Torvalds tossed in a barb with that post, by releasing it on a Saturday afternoon and explaining why as follows:

“I usually do the releases on a Sunday afternoon, but occasionally cut the merge window short by a day just to keep people on their toes, and make sure people learn not to send in last-minute pull requests. No gaming the merge window to the last day. This is one such release.”

Consider yourself chastised, kernel devs!

Torvalds says this will be a conventional release, with lots of bugs to be fixed. But he also called out two new additions.

“The big new thing is the greybus addition, which Greg swears is actually getting used.” “Greg” is kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman and “greybus” is this component of Project Ara. As Kroah-Hartman posted last month, “Greybus is an hardware protocol that was designed to provide Unipro with a sane application layer. It was originally designed for the ARA project, a module phone system, but has shown up in other phones, and can be tunneled over other busses in order to control hardware devices.”

So perhaps Google's vision isn't entirely dead.

Torvalds says his favourite addition is “Andy Lutomirski's new virtually mapped kernel stack allocations” because “They make it easier to find and recover from stack overflows, but the effort also cleaned up some code, and added a kernel stack mapping cache to avoid any performance downsides.”

“The virtual stack mapping also happens to mean that people who try to do DMA from temporary buffers on the stack ('Don't do it!') now really need to change their evil ways. So there is some fallout from this, and I expect a couple of drivers to need minor fixes. But it's all for a good cause, really (and it isn't all that common, because doing DMA from the stack really has never been a good idea, and is generally not even workable in most situations).”

Location boffins demo satellite-free navigation

No birds? No worries: LTE, Wi-Fi help keep things on track

18 Oct 2016 at Richard Chirgwin

University of California Riverside assisted-GPS model
Radio signals are all around us, so why not navigate by them? UC Riverside's "signals of opportunity" model

With both the US and Russia researching Global Positioning System (GPS) jamming, it's heartening to see boffins working on navigation systems that don't rely solely on satellite signals.

Research led by the University of California Riverside (UCR), and presented at a navigation system conference in mid-September, demonstrated how far the world has come in using all the other radio signals that surround us.

The researchers note that current GPS navigation, even supplemented by inertial navigation systems (like gyroscopes), isn't accurate or reliable enough for fully-autonomous vehicles.

Working with assistant professor Zak Kassas, UCR PhD candidate Joshua Morales supplemented an inertial-plus-satnav system with receivers that get a fix on ambient radio signals – Wi-Fi, AM/FM radio, mobile phone signals, TV transmissions and the like.

Using these “signals of opportunity” (SOOs) is challenging, however. The navigation system can't assume it knows their exact location, so instead, as the UCR paper explains (PDF), the on-board receivers learn the signals' timing. If the vehicle moves, the timing of the ambient wireless signals changes – and that can provide enough information to maintain accurate positioning information even if the navigation system temporarily loses sight of the GPS satellites.

A second paper demonstrates an SOO system specifically focussing on using LTE base stations, which provide more structured timing and location data.

The Register notes that the organisation which runs GPS standardisation, The Aerospace Corporation, is factoring external location sources into the design of GPS 2.0.


Open Sorcerers: Can you rid us of Emperor Zuck?

Looking for lessons for FOSS from OX


18Oct 2016 , Andrew Orlowski

OX Summit Back in the dot com heyday, around 1999 and 2000, Linux and open source conferences were huge events: they were packed and brimming with excitement. There was optimism, new initiatives in every conceivable direction, and anything seemed possible. Move over, Grandad: everything traditional was going to be up-ended by open source.

The logic that innovation gets “sedimented” (the great buzzword of the day) into open protocols and code was very seductive at the time. (“Sedimented” really meant “copied”, but has a geological flavour to make it look inevitable, like a natural element.)

Some of us wanted to believe it - but we couldn’t put aside a few nagging doubts. There was no shortage of talent, but we wondered how you’d motivate a developer to do the really boring stuff like write and maintain whatever-the-open-source-equivalent-of-SAP would be. Bug-fixing is tedious on sexy software - who’d want to do it for dull commercial data processing? Not only was the whatever-the-open-source-equivalent-of-SAP not there, but nobody in the room knew what it was.

We also wondered how a services model would bring in the necessary dosh to fund development for specialised software? Even then, supposed cost advantage of “free as in beer” didn’t really convince anyone: you need scale.

No matter. Eric S Raymond told us that FOSS made humans fulfilled: it worked at the highest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Once you had sufficient food and shelter, and family, you’d hanker for self-actualisation - and develop an itch to go and fix somebody else's bugs. You couldn’t be happy unless you were writing open source software. Really.

And in any case, IBM was splashing money about all over the place.

Despite the holes in the arguments, I looked forward to seeing lots of commercial experiments. Today, few (Red Hat, Canonical) have fulfilled even a glimmer of the promise of those early events, and Open-Exchange is one of very few providing software higher than up the stack: apps, not just system software. OX has some 230 staff, and releases only open source code which provides businesses and telcos with email and storage and DNS. It’s successful, and evidently well run - although it was far from an overnight success.

But why aren’t there are more OXs? I ask Rafael Laguna this every time I see him.

It’s money, he suggested. Telcos operate at huge scale.

“There’s no OX app, but Virgin Media can use it so a VM customers can send email. The OX model has done that for email and cloud stuff, but you have to build a sound and valid company.

“[The] Open source model helps you because you have wide distribution immediately. For commercial use - we’ve platformed ourselves.”

But in many respects the “sedimentation” view of history turned out to be wronger than wrong. The world has moved in the opposite direction. Open protocols like IRC were shunned as proprietary apps like WhatsApp (a clone with a million clones) and Slack thrive.

Er... where's the value in WhatsApp?

“Chat is even worse,” Laguna agrees, “because we already have XMPP. There are lots of implementations. You can do anything with XMPP that you can do with WhatsApp or Snapchat, so why do we have WhatsApp?”

Nobody seems to be able to write a common messaging system that ISPs can host with better privacy than Facebook allows you to have. How healthy is the market in Facebook clients compared to the market for nntp readers twenty years ago?

Facebook does hire good developers, Laguna points out.

“They hire clever people and pay them crazy money. Again, we’re trying to be the other guys. We hire good people too - and do all the stuff a FB does - and offer good karma.”

IMAP developer Dovecot and PowerDNS joined, each benefiting from OX’s scale.

“Dovecot went from three people to twenty-five, and the same for PowerDNS. It’s almost like we’ve become an aggregator of that. I’d really hope too we see more OX-like companies. We’re a 230-people company and we’re growing at 40-50-60pc each year.”

Laguna takes some inspiration from Qwant, a privacy search engine - “that’s compatible to our way of thinking - it doesn’t store data between sessions.”

Maybe a sea change in how the US giants are perceived will spur that change.

“It’s a crazy world we live in. The internet has been taken over by private companies that make their own rules. They ignore local laws.” Referring to Uber, he points out it would be “illegal in most European countries,” but acknowledges that, “the quality of taxis hasn’t improved in most part of the world. A lot of these companies create better quality service even though, as you say, they transfer the risk to the driver and the customer.”

OX only launched its app suite in 2011, adding on-premises or full service hosting in 2012. Now the portfolio includes add-ons such as PowerDNS parental controls and malware filtering. Making it all mobile seems to be next on the agenda. It’s very much geared around what its telco customers want to host, but that in itself can be viewed as a positive. Europe just doesn’t have the knee-jerk telco-hatred that Silicon Valley has nurtured.

The prize for open source should surely be the social network and messaging functions. A few years ago a federated open source social network called Diaspora was announced on Kickstarter - raising a six-figure sum before it had written any code.

The model was interesting, though. The vision, if realised, would have made social networking a service - and a feature of everyone else’s app - rather than a few proprietary fiefdoms, accessible via one website (in each case) and strictly controlled vendor apps. Once upon a time, not so long ago, you needed a BlackBerry to do mobile messaging properly. Then that bundle was burst open.

"WhatsApp says they’re not giving to give data to Facebook, [they're] just going to pocket the $20bn. Then it gives it over to Facebook anyway. Screw you," Laguna said in his keynote. "I’ve got 30 years of email, and I've changed provider dozens of times in the mean-time. A service cannot be trusted if it’s not available from many providers."

An open-source federated social networking infrastructure would tick a lot of boxes.

Diaspora got nowhere, but maybe we’ll look back on the Facebook era and be amazed that it lasted so long