Tedium - Controlled Panic 🚨

The Linux kernel gets a potentially user-friendly feature.

Hunting for the end of the long tail • July 03, 2024

Controlled Panic

An upcoming iteration of the Linux kernel could take a user-friendly direction: A Linux version of the Blue Screen of Death, complete with QR code.

If you’re nerdy like me, tell me if this one is familiar to you. You make a tweak to your machine—desktop or laptop—and during the boot process, there’s a kernel panic.

It’s an experience I’m definitely familiar with when it comes to Hackintoshing. Often, error messages would fly by so fast that I would have to take my phone, record the screen, and then frame-by-frame, uncover the error. Absolute pain, but honestly kind of exciting for the right kind of nerd.

But it makes life a challenge for actually trying to figure out what’s wrong with your computer, especially if the error is extremely technical because you made some sort of hardware or software change that borked the whole thing.

The way people expect you to use QR codes. The Linux kernel is … um, not doing this! (Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash)

That’s where an update to the upcoming version of the Linux kernel, version 6.10, comes into play. As Phoronix reports, the kernel is gaining the equivalent of a “blue screen of death.” But it could go a step further than that. A new patch for said kernel, rather than spitting a massive list of errors at you, instead would present the kernel panic in the form of a giant QR code that can be scanned in with your given smartphone or tablet so that you can then figure out what the hell went wrong.

Tech advice you need: You already have a complainer in your inbox (hi!) but if you actually want tech advice, I suggest Advisorator by my pal Jared Newman. A few sample topics include de-bloating Google, getting more out of password managers, and making newsletters easier to digest. Speaking of easy-to-digest, that‘s a great descriptor for Advisorator! Subscribe here.

Back in 2016, Microsoft added something similar to Windows 10, but it was a tiny QR code that usually links to a general website. As The Register wrote back when that launched, there was the potential for malware companies to exploit this tool:

Neat idea, huh. Except we can imagine the fun malware will have with this. Fake a system crash by popping up a blue screen, show a QR code that links to a malicious website, and fool someone into opening it on their browser. From there you can offer crap PC repair software (your machine just "crashed", after all), pretend to be Microsoft offering updates to fix your PC, and so on.

As far as I can tell, that has never actually happened, though maybe there might be an outlier in the malware universe I don’t know about.

But eight years later, it sounds like the Linux kernel is borrowing this idea from Microsoft. However, there’s one key difference. It is effectively a dump of the error codes in a text file, meaning that if your kernel crashes, you wouldn’t be hitting a link. It’s a much more purpose-built solution.

Regular people might possibly find this error user friendly! (via Github)

“The main advantage of QR-code, is that you can copy/paste the debug data to a bug report,” RedHat’s Jocelyn Falempe wrote in a post on the Linux kernel mailing list.

Given the fact that Linux is seeing increased uptake by people who may not necessarily know the ins and outs of what might be breaking the kernel, let alone the ability to fix it themselves, this could be an excellent way to standardize support. Or they could introduce security risks in surprising new places.

But that said, if handled correctly, this could be an important step in the further mainstreaming of Linux, as it makes what might have once been scary into something slightly more approachable. Will it work? Who knows. But for tinkerers like myself, the ability to not have to shoot a video of my screen every time a kernel panic happens sounds like a big win.

Panic-Free Links

In my debut for Creative Bloq, I had a chance to write about Adobe’s big spate of controversies and what I think they can do to correct course. Honestly, I’d love to see them take on their support backlogs.

This app is too cool for me.

Personally, I’m super excited to see another social app jump up the App Store charts. The chat app noplace, just out of beta, is sort of like a mix between MySpace, Twitter, and a group chat. It looks super fascinating, even though I very much am not in the age range.

On the eve of July 4, I would be remiss to not mention the current moment in U.S. politics, which is kind of heavy. The Supreme Court dropped a bit of a bomb this past week, and the New York Times seems like they are ready to turn Biden into chopped liver. I don’t know the solution to either of these problems—but I like what Dan Gillmor has to say about journalists snapping out of both-sidesism.


Find this one interesting? Share it with a pal! Back at it again after the Fourth.

And if you’re on the hunt for a new newsletter adventure, be sure to give Jared Newman’s Advisorator a good hard look

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