So I haven't posted a good rant on my blog in quite some time - I had chilled out a lot in my older years, but I just have to tell this story about Safari and my struggles in getting it to work with my chat room I had built recently.
My chat room is a fairly basic app - it's open source and written "from scratch" using WebSockets to handle the client/server communication and they pass basic JSON messages around. All fairly standard stuff and shouldn't be a big ask for any modern web browser that supports modern web standards. It works flawlessly in Google Chrome as well as all other Chromium derivatives (including Edge, Brave, etc.), and it works flawlessly on Firefox, and when you run either browser on your Windows, Linux or Mac OS computer. It even works great on all Androids, too - using Chromium or Firefox browser engines.
But then there's Safari. Safari "supports" WebSockets but it doesn't do so very well and I've been fighting this for weeks now trying to chip away at this problem. Both when you run Safari on your Mac OS Ventura desktop or on your iPhone or iPad, Safari is very easy to overwhelm and it will disconnect from the chat room at the slightest hiccup of an issue.
My rant here actually is about three different problems that have made my life difficult trying to get Safari to work:
I don't own a Macbook or an iOS device and so would have no way to even debug or look into this problem, but at least there is an option to run Mac OS inside of a virtual machine (using something like OSX-KVM) so at least I can look into the desktop Safari browser and see what its deal is.
First - here is how my chat basically works: you connect, send your username to log in, the chat tells everyone you joined, sends everyone the new Who's Online roster, and sends some "welcome messages" to the one who joined where I can send my rules or new feature announcements to you.
What I would see when a Safari user logged in was: they'd connect, log in, receive all those welcome messages and then they would immediately hangup the connection and log off. On their side, the web browser gives a very unhelpful error message regarding the WebSocket:
That's it - it doesn't say what the error was. Even when I have a Safari browser in front of me, they give me no help at all to find out what's wrong!
Through trial and error, I found out:
...and that kind of thoroughly sucks. I can remove all the welcome messages so as to allow Safari to at least log on, but then just one user posting a paragraph of text will kick all the Safari users out of the chat room!
Chrome and Firefox don't experience this issue. A while ago I added picture sharing in chat - you send your picture over WebSocket and it echoes it as a
data: URL to all the chatters, passing those bytes directly back out; Firefox and Chrome can cope with this perfectly, but that would for sure kick Safari users off for too long of a message!
So, when it comes to Mac OS users I can tell them: Chrome and Firefox work better. But this advice does not fly on iPads or iPhones because, per Apple's rules, web browsers on iOS are not allowed to bring their own browser engines - they all are just custom wrappers around Mobile Safari.
And you guessed it: Mobile Safari doesn't like my WebSockets either!
I am hoping that with EU pressure placed on Apple to where they will allow competing browser engines to join their platform, that at least some of my iOS users will have a way to use my chat room. But how it stands currently is: iPads and iPhones simply can't use my chat room at all, or if they can get on (maybe it's the "too long of message" issue with them as well), they will be fragile and easy to boot offline just by writing too long of a message.
Apple will not innovate on Safari and make it support modern web standards, and they've made sure that nobody else can innovate either. The Blink engine from Chromium and Gecko from Firefox both work great with WebSockets and if only they were allowed to exist in their true forms on Apple mobiles, I wouldn't be ranting about this right now, I could just say "don't use Safari."
And side rant: the reason Apple won't allow Chrome or Firefox to compete with them is because they are scared shitless about Progressive Web Apps, which could compete with their native app store. They won't innovate on Safari at all until their feet are held to the fire (thanks for that as well, EU!), their web browser sucks (as this WebSockets thing illustrates), they're holding everybody back - the new Internet Explorer 6.0!
Even if I owned an iPad, it wouldn't help - you can't get to the browser logs on an iPad browser to even see what kind of error message it's throwing. Though I imagine the error message would be just as helpful as desktop Safari, anyway: "Protocol error."
In order to get logs off an iOS web browser, you need to pair it with a Macbook computer -- the only kind of device that is allowed to run the iOS development kits and is the only way to debug anything that happens on your iPad.
With Mac OS, at least there is a way I can spin up a virtual machine and get my hands on Safari. There is no way to do this for iOS. There's no virtual machine where I can run the genuine Mobile Safari app and have a look at this issue myself. I wish Apple weren't so closed in their ecosystem - comparing it to Android for example, you can debug an Android app using any kind of computer: Windows, Linux, Mac OS, even another Android, even on-device on the same Android.
I am not an iOS developer, I don't care to be an iOS developer, and I don't own any Apple hardware, and it really sucks when I run into a web app issue that should have nothing to do with Apple specific software, and I simply can not even get in and look at the error messages.
I'd been chipping away at this for weeks, basically blindly trying things and throwing shit at the walls and hoping one of my Apple using friends tries my chat room once in a while to see if any of my efforts have worked (spoiler: they haven't worked).
I've also tried reaching out to developers on Mastodon and other social media: my chat room is open source, could somebody with Apple hardware help me debug and see if they can find out what I can do better to get Safari to like my chat room. Maybe I didn't reach the right ears because I've gotten only crickets in response. Meanwhile about a third of my users still can not get onto my chat room at all.
Where I've landed so far is: it seems Safari can connect, but that < 500 character limit issue seems horribly broken and I don't want Safari users getting kicked off left and right by surprise, it's a bad user experience.
If I wait it out long enough (and if the EU is successful), Apple may permit actually good web browser engines on their platform and then my chat will work perfectly on them. It may just take a couple of years though - first Apple would have to be successfully sued into submission, and then Google/Mozilla would have to port their browser engines over which could be its own long tail of development work.
Maybe as a consequence of that regulation, Apple will actually put some new work into Safari instead of just neglecting it and they'll fix their shit. Currently it seems like my WebSocket messages need to be smaller than a tweet on Twitter, and it honestly won't be worth all the effort it would take me to reimagine my whole chat room and come up with a clever protocol to break messages apart into tiny bite sized chunks when it's only one, non-standards compliant web browser, which drags its stick thru the mud as badly as Internet Explorer ever did, that has the issue here.
So are they the new Internet Explorer, or somehow even worse?
I have sometimes had people visit my blog because they were Googling around in general about Apple and they like to fight me in the comments because I dissed their favorite brand. If this is you, at least say something constructive in the comments: have you ever built a WebSockets app and do you have experience to share in how to get Safari to behave? If you're simply an end user fanboy and never installed Xcode in your life, save your comments, please.
It seems there's a new iOS vulnerability where receiving a certain text message can crash your phone (forcing a reboot), and then lock you out of the Messages app--presumably because attempting to display the offending message will crash the phone again. Also, apparently, you don't even have to read the text message; the notification for the message alone will crash the phone too.
I heard of it from this article on Cult of Mac, and I have various thoughts on the matter (and about iOS vulnerabilities in general and how people handle them once discovered--the long story short is they're handled very poorly).
The article mentions that if you found yourself a victim to this exploit, you can "fix" it by visiting a web page in Mobile Safari which then offers to "Open this page in Messages" and then finds some way to allow safely deleting the text without crashing the phone.
I tried inspecting the source code of the "fix" page with the
curl command line HTTP client (because you should never check out a possibly shady web page in your normal browser, as they might try and exploit some zero-day vulnerability in your browser and compromise your computer). But, it seems that the domain the fix was hosted on no longer exists: it gave me some DoubleClick "inquire about this domain" nonsense and tons of advertisements.
Either this is an extraordinary coincidence that the site is down now (given that the article was written today, and presumably the site worked when the author wrote the article), or the site was up to something shady and got reported and terminated by its host/registrar. My guess is that it was basically a jailbreak exploit, as iOS tends to be very locked down compared to Android (for example, no "Intents" system for apps to communicate with each other, and iOS doesn't allow replacing the default Messages app for managing your text messages).
Which brings me to how iOS vulnerabilities are handled in general by the users: very badly. Somebody discovered that they can crash iOS by sending a certain text message to an iPhone user, and instead of doing the responsible thing of privately informing Apple about it and not disclosing it publicly, they make YouTube videos being like "Text your friend these 3 characters and crash their phone! It's hilarious! Fun prank!"
It's not a fun prank. Short of using a shady as fuck web page that probably gains root privileges on the phone in order to fix your Messages app, the other way to fix it would probably be to factory reset the entire phone.
To compare with Android, vulnerabilities get disclosed in vague terms, like "somebody can craft a special audio file and text you it", but with no specific details, and the users are more concerned with updating their OS to patch the problem as soon as possible; rather than being, "I can crash all my friends' phones! I know exactly how to do it because blogs and YouTube videos are telling me how; and I'll use it to 'prank' as many of my friends as I can before Apple can fix it!"
One reason I'm glad not to be an iPhone user. I'd have to unfriend people IRL if they intentionally abused such a dangerous exploit against me.
In user interface and software design, the principle of least astonishment states that "if a necessary feature has a high astonishment factor, it may be necessary to redesign the feature." It means that your user interface should behave in a way that the user expects, based on their prior knowledge of how similar interfaces behave.
This is a rant about Mac OS X.
Today I picked up a Macbook Air (13", early 2015 model) because I wanted a new laptop, as my old laptop (the Samsung Series 5) has a horrible battery life, where it barely lasts over an hour and gives up early (powering down at 40% and not coming back up until I plug it in). This is also my first Apple computer. I'm the furthest thing from an Apple fanboy, but the choices I was throwing around in my head were between an Apple computer and a Lenovo Thinkpad.
I was given a Thinkpad as my work laptop, and it's by far the most impressive PC laptop I've ever used; it can drive three displays and run lots of concurrent tasks and has an insane battery life. Every PC laptop I've owned in the past have sucked in comparison. I hear people compare Apple computers to Thinkpads, so that's why the choice came down to one of these, and I didn't want another Thinkpad sitting around the house. ;)
Months before getting a Macbook I was looking into what kind of effort it takes to install Linux on a Macbook. There's a lot of information out there, and most of it suggests that the best way to go is to install a boot manager like rEFIt (or rEFInd, since rEFIt isn't maintained anymore). I saw some pages about not using rEFIt and installing Grub directly, which were from a Debian and Arch Linux perspective, and it sounded really complicated.
It seems that nowadays, with a user friendly Linux distribution like Fedora, a lot of this works much more flawlessly than the dozens of tutorials online would suggest. I just made a Fedora LiveUSB in the usual way (as if installing on a normal PC), rebooted the Macbook while holding the Option key, so that I was able to select the USB to boot from.
When installing Fedora to disk, the process was very much the same as doing it on a normal PC. I let Fedora automatically create the partition layout, and it created partitions and mount points for
/home like usual, but it also created a partition and mount point for
/boot/efi (for installing itself as the default bootloader in the EFI firmware on the Macbook). After installation was completed, I rebooted and the grub boot screen comes up immediately, with options to boot into Fedora.
One weird thing is, the grub screen apparently sees something related to Mac OS X (there were two entries, like "Mac OS X 32-bit" and "Mac OS X 64-bit", but both options would give error messages when picked).
If I want to boot into OS X, I hold down the Option key on boot and pick the Macintosh HD from the EFI boot menu. Otherwise, if the Macbook boots normally it goes into the grub menu and then Fedora. So, the whole thing is very similar to a typical PC dual-boot setup (with Windows and Linux), just with one extra step to get into OS X.
Update: I'm keeping a wiki page with miscellaneous setup notes and tips here: Fedora on Macbook
What it really means from what I've read is that Google is just not selling the phone themselves directly but it can still be obtained via other means (developers can still buy them and they're still being sold in other countries), but that Google still intends to support the phone for the foreseeable future -- it will still be the first in line to get Android updates, for example.
I have a Nexus One and I like it and this news is a bit worrisome to me, but not in the way you might expect. Rather, because the Nexus One is one of the few Android phones that is truly open.
Apparently, the very first Android phone (the G1), the first Droid, and the Nexus One are pretty much the only Android phones that ship with the stock, vanilla, Android firmware. All the other HTC phones out there for example run the "HTC Sense" UI on top of Android, and the Motorola phones run the "Motoblur" UI; some people don't like these add-ons on top of Android and would rather run Android the way Google intended, using the stock vanilla release of the ROM. Or, some people just like to hack their phones and have root access on them.
The Nexus One phone made it really easy to unlock your bootloader and install custom/unsigned Android ROMs onto the phone if you wanted to (it would even provide a nice screen warning you that you're about to void your warranty). The Nexus One allows you to install whatever you want on it, and both Google and the phone itself fully supports this. But, other phones, notably the Motorola phones that come with an eFuse that will practically "brick" your phone if you try to modify its firmware, aren't so open.
There seems to be a trend in Android phones in which companies are trying to play Apple; Apple's iPhone devices are super locked down, and Apple tries to patch all the security holes to stop people from jailbreaking their devices - with each firmware release Apple tries to make it harder and harder to hack the iPhones. In Apple's ideal world, their hardware would be completely 100% impenetrable from hackers and nobody could modify their devices. It seems Android vendors want to copy this business model, which I for one do not like.
It seems Android vendors are "standing on the shoulders of giants," they look at Android and all they see is a free open source Linux-based mobile operating system, and they wanna just take all that hard work, add a few things to make their devices a major pain in the ass to hack (in their ideal world, absolutely impossible to hack) and then jerk their customers around in exactly the same way that Apple does. Is this really what Android was supposed to be all about? Just giving greedy megacorporations the cheap tools they need to strongarm part of the cell phone monopoly in their favor?
Hopefully the Nexus One won't be the last developer phone that can be bought by non-developers. I got mine specifically because it ran the stock unmodified Android firmware and because it was completely open to customization. As I ranted about before, I don't like how Apple is able to just slow down your old phones and force you to upgrade; at least I have the comfort of knowing I can easily flash any Android ROM onto my Nexus One and nobody can force me to upgrade by slowing my phone down or doing anything else malicious to it.
God help us if this is the future and we're stuck with many Apple-like companies all forcing us to use their locked-down devices that we're not allowed to touch at all for fear of permanently bricking our devices.
I didn't care one way or another about Apple until I got an iPhone 3G about a year ago. I got it about a month before the iPhone 3GS model came out; I heard the 3GS was on its way but nobody knew when, but I figured, "a smartphone is a smartphone, who really cares if mine doesn't have a compass built in?" How wrong I was.
I didn't know then what Apple was planning to do in the following month. Basically, they release the 3.0 firmware upgrade for iPhone 3G users. The new firmware gives the 3G customers a taste of some of the new features and would encourage them to buy the upcoming 3GS phone to get the rest. But, one more thing, the 3.0 firmware slows your shit down! So, the customers who were fine with the 3G and didn't plan to upgrade to the 3GS, now, would probably want to buy the 3GS just because they get sick of the 3G being so slow.
If you take an iPhone 3G running the 2.x firmware and compare it side-by-side with the 3GS phone running the 3.0 firmware... the differences in speed and "snappiness" is negligible.
So basically, the 3G was slowed down, on purpose, and then when the Apple fanboys stopped complaining and got used to this new slowness... Apple releases the iPhone 3GS and "ohh my godd, it's SO fast and snappy!"
I've been telling everyone my prediction for the last year but now I'm writing it for my blog: my prediction is that this upcoming summer 2010, Apple will release the 4.0 iPhone OS firmware upgrade, which will slow down all the 3GS phones (Apple's currently latest model of iPhone), and then this will be followed a week or two later by Apple unveiling the iPhone 4, which will be OH-SO-FAST now compared to the crippled, slowed-down 3GS phones.
Let's just wait and see if I'm right.
For this reason, my iPhone 3G is the first, and last, Apple product I ever intend to own. Well, the only closed device, anyway; I do like the Mac OS X operating system, and with a Macbook you can always reinstall the operating system from the CD that came with your computer. But with locked-down devices, once you make the mistake of upgrading, you can't go back; modern iTunes versions make sure of this: when you try to restore your devices in iTunes now, iTunes insists on getting the very latest firmware from Apple and doesn't let you browse and choose an older firmware image.
Because of the way Apple abuses their iPhone and iPod Touch customers, you'd better believe they'll pull the same shit with iPad customers too. I hope all you iPad early adopters love your iPad now, but just wait and, approximately a year from now there will inevitably be a new model, and Apple will really want to slow your shit down to force you to either deal with the artificial slowness, or pay another $500+ to upgrade to the latest model.
So I'm not a fan of Apple's closed devices. But I'm also not a fan of Apple's policies in terms of their app store approvals and rejections.
It was all over the blogosphere when Apple banned the Google Voice application from the app store, and even started an FCC investigation about whether Apple had any legal right to do so. Why did Apple ban Google Voice? Because it competed with Apple's very own phone application.
Similarly, there have been other apps Apple has killed because Apple is anti-competitive, including an e-mail app that was better than Apple's built-in e-mail app. Apple likes to maintain a complete monopoly--nay, a dictatorship--over its app store, and it would rather completely exterminate any hint of competition than to actually, you know, compete back. If somebody made an e-mail app that kicks the ass of Apple's e-mail app, Apple should make their e-mail app better than the competition; it shouldn't just throw a bitchfit and say "BAWWWWW this app isn't approved for the app store!"
Apple, in this regard, comes off to me as being like an immature little child, who would rather throw the chess board on the floor and scatter all the pieces than to even think about dealing with any form of competition whatsoever.
In the "App Store Competition" boat also sits Adobe Flash. It's highly speculated that the real reason Apple has a vendetta against Flash is because Flash applications can be just as feature-rich, interactive and animated as native iPhone applications. If Mobile Safari had a Flash player, nothing would stop people from creating web applications, that consist of a Flash object, that users could bookmark as Home Screen icons, that would be just as full-featured as native iPhone applications.
Similarly, Apple's latest developer agreement says you must originally write your app in C, C++ or Objective-C. Why did Apple decide to add this clause just now? Because Adobe's latest Flash beta includes the capability to export your Flash application into Objective-C code, which would enable one to basically use Adobe Flash to create iPhone applications.
Apple hates Flash for one reason: it directly competes with the app store and the native iPhone applications. If you could use Flash to create Objective-C code to author iPhone applications, Apple may lose some market share since Mac OS X is no longer required to create iPhone apps, among other things.
Anyway, this is where I stand on my views about Apple. Frankly, Apple is evil, in the sense of the term as it is used in Google's company slogan, "Don't be evil." Apple is this kind of evil.
So, I have no plans to ever own another closed Apple device, and would never consider developing an iPhone application. Nothing could be worse than spending weeks or months developing an application, only to have Apple dictate at the last minute that your app won't be allowed on the app store.
When I get an Android, I'll do Android app development. It has a plus of being Java-based. This means if I decided to make, say, a game, I could program the game once and then very trivially make many different ports of it: a desktop application, "full version" of the game; a Java applet, "try online before you download" light version of the game; and an Android application, "mobile version" of the game.
I know Apple fanboys like to google for anyone talking shit about Apple and I welcome the comments. I just know however from speaking with Apple fanboys I know in real life that they all were fully aware that Apple slows down their old devices (a co-worker fanboy has an iPhone 3G and agreed that it was slowed down with the 3.0 firmware). But, as expected of Apple fanboys, they try to justify it and defend Apple even though Apple is blatantly screwing them over and extorting them for as much money as possible. But by all means, post your comments anyway; entertain me with your blind dedication to Apple and how you believe they could do no wrong.
Because from where I stand, holding my iPhone 3G that takes 40 seconds to load the SMS app from a sleep state (and you 3G users know exactly what I'm talking about), Apple is doing nothing good here.