Microsoft Releases The Source Code You Wanted Almost 30 Years Ago

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, if you had a personal computer there was a fair chance it either booted into some version of Microsoft Basic or you could load and run Basic. There were other versions, of course, especially for very small computers, but the gold standard for home computer Basic was Microsoft’s version, known then as GW-Basic. Now you can get the once-coveted Microsoft Basic source code for the 8086/8088 directly from Microsoft in the state you would have found it in 1983. They put up a read only GW-BASIC repository, presumably to stop a flood of feature requests for GPU acceleration.

You might wonder why they would do this? It is certainly educational, especially if you are interested in assembly language. For historical reasons, you might want to get a copy you could modify, too, for your latest retrocomputer project.

There are a few tidbits of interest. Some of the source is marked that it was translated. Apparently, Microsoft had a master implementation for some processor — real or imagined — and could translate from that code to 8088, Z-80, 6502, or any other processor they wanted to target.

From what we understand, GW-Basic was identical to IBM’s BASICA, but didn’t require certain IBM PC ROMs to operate. Of course, BASICA, itself, came from MBASIC, Microsoft’s CP/M language that originated with Altair Basic. A long lineage that influenced personal computers for many years. On a side note, there’s debate on what the GW stands for. Gee-Whiz is a popular vote, but it could stand for ‘Gates, William’, Greg Whitten (an early Microsoft employee), or Gates-Whitten. The source code doesn’t appear to answer that question.

We did enjoy the 1975 copyright message, though:

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON THE PDP-10 FROM
FEBRUARY 9 TO APRIL 9 1975

BILL GATES WROTE A LOT OF STUFF.
PAUL ALLEN WROTE A LOT OF OTHER STUFF AND FAST CODE.
MONTE DAVIDOFF WROTE THE MATH PACKAGE (F4I.MAC).

It wasn’t long ago that Microsoft released some old versions of MSDOS. If you have the urge to write some Basic, you might pass on GW-Basic and try QB64, instead.

GW-Basic Disk and Manual photo by [Palatinatian] CC-SA-4.0.

Make It Easier For Your Software Project To Accept Contributions

[Flameeyes] has heard complaints (and at times, he admits, has complained himself) about big companies not contributing improvements to projects they seem to find useful, or rolling their own implementation rather than use and contribute to an existing code base. Having recently left Google after seven years, he has some insights into some of the reasons big corporations (at least Google, anyway) may sometimes seem to eschew making code contributions, and some of the reasons might come as a surprise.

There are things a corporation can do differently, but there are also some things that can be done on the project’s end to make accepting contributions easier. [Flameeyes] took some time to write out a few pointers on how to make it easier for others (particularly large corporations) to contribute code to a software project.

The biggest issue is the software license. Without one, there is no legal structure to use, distribute, or contribute to the code, and no corporate entity will want to touch it. Google specifically forbids creating patches for projects with either no license, or incompatible licenses. An example of an incompatible license is one that forbids commercial use, because everything a corporation like Google does — even research –is considered a commercial endeavor. In addition, on the corporate side making contributions might trigger a code review process of some kind for some licenses, but not for others. [Flameeyes] suggests the MIT license as one that is acceptable to pretty much everyone with a minimum of fuss. Another caution: if a project’s code resides in an online repository, make sure the repository is licensed as well.

A few other small suggestions (such as maintaining an AUTHORS file to track contributors in a tidy way) rounds out the advice. It sounds simple, but software licensing is so critical to the whole affair that it’s important to get it right — he suggests the REUSE tool for anyone wanting to make sure a project’s licensing is tidy.

[Flameeyes] makes a point that none of this guidance is based on secret or institutional knowledge. Google has a public document detailing exactly how they use and deal with open source, and it’s a solid guide for how to make your project more accepting of contributions from a corporate entity like Google. (Or, if you prefer, a guide on how to set up as many barriers as possible for your project.)

In case you missed it, we just want to remind you that our favorite recent open source project from Google is definitely Pigweed.

What Does GitHub’s Npm Acquisition Mean For Developers?

Microsoft’s open-source shopping spree has claimed another victim: npm. [Nat Friedman], CEO of GitHub (owned by Microsoft), announced the move recently on the GitHub blog.

So what motivated the acquisition, and what changes are we likely to see as a result of it? There are some obvious upsides and integrations, but these will be accompanied by the usual dose of skepticism from the open-source community. The company history and working culture of npm has also had its moments in the news, which may well have contributed to the current situation. This post aims to explore some of the rationale behind the acquisition, and what it’s likely to mean for developers in the future.

Continue reading “What Does GitHub’s Npm Acquisition Mean For Developers?”

GitHub On The Go

It is hard to find anyone that does any kind of software development that doesn’t have some interaction with GitHub. Even if you don’t host your own projects there, there are so many things to study and borrow on the site, that it is nearly ubiquitous. However, when you’ve needed GitHub on the run, you’ve probably had to turn to your phone browser and had a reduced experience. GitHub for Mobile is now out of beta and promises a more fluid phone-based GitHub experience.

In addition to working with tasks and issues, you can also review and merge pull requests. The app sends your phone notifications, too, which can be handy. As you might expect, you can get the app for Android or iPhone in the respective stores.

Continue reading “GitHub On The Go”

GitHub Goes GUI-less

Git is a handy tool that many of us are using for more than just software development. Having a cloud-based upstream repository is also surprisingly useful, but until now using GitHub — the most common upstream server — meant firing up a web browser, at least for certain tasks. Now GitHub is releasing a beta version of command-line tools made to manipulate your GitHub repos.

The tools are early release so they mostly focus on issues and pull requests. Of course, git itself will do the normal things like clone and checkout — you’ve always been able to do that on the command line. The example given in the announcement blog post lists all issues with a help wanted label:

gh issue list --label "help wanted"

We noticed that asking to view the issue, while done on the command line, will still open a browser. The tools are still a little early, so this is an excellent time to let the developers know what you’d like or otherwise influence the project.

We were a little surprised it wouldn’t just consume git, so that you’d use the same commands for everything and it would just pass pre-formed commands to git. Of course, that would be pretty easy to write as a shell script wrapper if you were interested in such a thing.

You’d be forgiven for only thinking of git as a way to manage source code revisions, but it’s actually capable of all sorts of interesting tricks.

Hackaday Links: December 8, 2019

Now that November of 2019 has passed, it’s a shame that some of the predictions made in Blade Runner for this future haven’t yet come true. Oh sure, 109 million people living in Los Angeles would be fun and all, but until we get our flying cars, we’ll just have to console ourselves with the ability to “Enhance!” photographs. While the new service, AI Image Enlarger, can’t tease out three-dimensional information, the app is intended to sharpen enlargements of low-resolution images, improving the focus and bringing up details in the darker parts of the image. The marketing material claims that the app uses machine learning, and is looking for volunteers to upload high-resolution images to improve its training set.

We’ve been on a bit of a nano-satellite bender around here lately, with last week’s Hack Chat discussing simulators for CubeSats, and next week’s focusing on open-source thrusters for PocketQube satellites. So we appreciated the timing of a video announcing the launch of the first public LoRa relay satellite. The PocketCube-format satellite, dubbed FossaSat-1, went for a ride to space along with six other small payloads on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket launched from New Zealand. Andreas Spiess has a short video preview of the FossaSat-1 mission, which was designed to test the capabilities of a space-based IoT link that almost anyone can access with cheap and readily available parts; a ground station should only cost a couple of bucks, but you will need an amateur radio license to uplink.

We know GitHub has become the de facto standard for source control and has morphed into a collaboration and project management platform used by everybody who’s anybody in the hacking community. But have you ever wished for a collaboration platform that was a little more in tune with the needs of hardware designers? Then InventHub might be of interest to you. Currently in a limited beta – we tried to sign up for the early access program but seem to have been put on a waiting list – it seems like this will be a platform that brings versioning directly to the ECAD package of your choice. Through plugins to KiCad, Eagle, and all the major ECAD players you’ll be able to collaborate with other designers and see their changes marked up on the schematic — sort of a visual diff. It seems interesting, and we’ll be keeping an eye on developments.

Amazon is now offering a stripped-down version of their Echo smart speaker called Input, which teams up with speakers that you already own to satisfy all your privacy invasion needs on the super cheap — only $10. At that price, it’s hard to resist buying one just to pop it open, which is what Brian Dorey did with his. The teardown is pretty standard, and the innards are pretty much what you’d expect from a modern piece of surveillance apparatus, but the neat trick here involved the flash memory chip on the main board. Brian accidentally overheated it while trying to free up the metal shield over it, and the BGA chip came loose. So naturally, he looked up the pinout and soldered it to a micro-SD card adapter with fine magnet wire. He was able to slip it into a USB SD card reader and see the whole file system for the Input. It was a nice hack, and a good teardown.

Cruising GitHub For Slack Webhook Tokens

GitHub is an incredibly powerful tool for sharing source code, and its value to the modern hacker can’t be overstated. But there’s at least one downside to effortlessly sharing your source: it’s now much easier for the whole world to find out when you screw up. Back in the day, if you accidentally left a username or password in a tarball hosted on your site, you could pull it down before anyone noticed. But push something like that up to GitHub, and you’ve got a problem on your hands.

For an example, look no farther than this tool that crawls GitHub for Slack webhooks written by [Michele Gruppioni]. Exploiting the fact that Slack webhook links have a predictable format, the tool searches repositories to find code that erroneously includes the authentication token. With the token in hand, an attacker now has the ability to send unsolicited messages into that channel.

But [Michele] restrained himself and didn’t Rickroll the over 6,500 Slack channels he had access to after searching GitHub with his tool. Instead, he sent them all a friendly message explaining their webhook tokens were available on GitHub, and gave them a link to where they could get more information about his project.

Most of the people who contacted him after the fact appreciated that he sent a gentle warning and not something unsavory. Still, we’d recommend caution to anyone looking to expose a vulnerability in this manner. While [Michele] had honorable intentions, it’s certainly not unheard of for an embarrassed administrator to blame the messenger.

When used properly, webhooks can be a very handy way of pushing data into your chat platform of choice. We’ve previously looked at a practical example of a weather station that pushes current conditions into a Discord channel. Just try not to accidentally commit your authentication token to the world’s largest database of open source projects, or you might receive more than you bargained for.