Firefox 15 Beta Adds Support for Opus Audio Codec

Opus-Audio-FormatOne of the most well-known features of HTML5 is its ability to play video and audio files natively. With HTML5’s <video> and <audio> tags, you do not need to have third-party software like Windows Media Player or Real Player to enjoy multimedia content. Your browser should be able to take care of audio and video files out of the box, independent of the system. Unfortunately, due to a lack of consensus, HTML5 specifications don’t actually specify the codecs in which the multimedia content must be encoded in. This is similar to how to image tag works – the image tag can be used to embed images in all popular image formats including BMP, JPEG, GIF, and PNG. Initially, Internet Explorer and Apple supported the proprietary H.264 technology for the video tag, and Opera and Mozilla backed Ogg Theora. While H.264 posed licensing challenges, Ogg Theora was widely believed to be an inferior solution. Google tried to solve the conundrum by stepping in and proposing WebM, which uses a superior VP8 video codec and Vorbis Ogg audio codec. For audio tag also something similar happened with some browsers throwing their weight behind Ogg and others supporting AAC.

Now, Mozilla is proposing a new audio format called Opus as an alternative to Ogg and AAC formats that have emerged as the de facto choices for the audio tag. Opus is a completely free audio format that was developed by collaboration between members of the IETF Internet Wideband Audio Codec working group, which includes Mozilla, Microsoft, Xiph.Org, Broadcom, and Octasic.
Mozilla is promising better quality to size ratio for Opus than its competitors. According to its tests, Opus is the best-in-class for live streaming and static file playback. In fact, it is being heralded as the first audio codec to be well-suited for both interactive and non-interactive applications. Mozilla’s listening tests show that at 64 kbps, Opus sounds better than both HE-AAC and Vorbis, and a 64 kbps Opus file sounds as good as a 96 kbps MP3 file.

Mozilla is adding support for Opus with Firefox 15 beta, and is hoping that other browser manufacturers will follow suit.

SPDY/3 Support Comes To Google Chrome 22, Firefox Sandbox Builds

Google recently released 21 in the beta channel with support for Webcams and Gamepads. However, another important feature that Google has been working on is the introduction of SPDY (pronounced as Speedy) in the HTTP/2.0 specification. The SPDY protocol has gained a lot of momentum with committing to support the protocol yesterday and several other big players including Twitter and browsers such as 13 supporting it as well.

Chrome SPDY/3 Support

Google has been working on the SPDY protocol since 2009, with it being included in the HTTP/2.0 specifications in January 2012. Since then, several contributors have worked to release newer versions of the protocol with the latest being an experimental release dubbed SPDY/3. Google has also been testing the SPDY protocol on mobile as well. While the goal of the SPDY protocol is to speed up the web, it is up to websites and browsers to implement of the protocol.

However, it looks like two of the major browsers including Firefox and Google Chrome are already working on supporting the SPDY/3 protocol. While the SPDY/3 protocol is restricted to Sandbox builds of Firefox. Google Chrome dev and canary build versions also support SPDY/3 through a switch in about:flags. The support for SPDY/3 is available on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and .

The SPDY protocol is definitely a step towards the future of the web and with major browser support it could help speed up how we access content on the web. Right now, other major browser like Internet Explorer, Safari and do not support SPDY, but hopefully they should do it in newer versions of their browser.

Mozilla BrowserID is Now Persona, and the Name is Justified

Mozilla wants to change the traditional ways of authentication on the web. Until now, we were habituated to enter a combination of login credentials to sign in to a website. Going further, Mozilla is working on a unique system that requires only an email ID to sign in. The system was dubbed as BrowserID earlier, though Mozilla has recently rebranded it as Persona, increasing the cool factor.

The sole aim of BrowserID, or Persona is to create a secure system for authentication, while giving users more flexibility over a cumbersome login process. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, though, we still use decade old authentication processes. It is good to see that someone is working hard to change that, and present it as a part of the user experience.


We have seen other single sign-on mechanisms, like Oauth based login from Twitter, Facebook etc. The problem is that, these are all centralized, and the authenticating entity is sitting on a pile of personal information, and gets to know each time you login to any website. Slightly apart, OpenID is a decentralized mechanism for authentication, so it provides an experience similar to what we expect from BrowserID. However, with BrowserID, you are in control of your entire personal information and online behavioral data. Moreover, BrowserID will allow pseudonyms and multiple identities too.

With data breaches becoming the order of the day, this project will relieve enterprises of a large number of responsibilities and legal issues when it comes to storing user data. Needless to say, it will provide for a seamless browsing experience for end-users.

Collusion from Mozilla Shows How You Are Being Tracked on the Web

The explosion of personalized web has pretty much clobbered online privacy to its death bed. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, someone or the other is tracking your surfing habits. The worst part is that this practice has become so rampant that most of us have come to accept online tracking as standard affair. Mozilla has been trying to tackle the problem of behavioural tracking on the web for quite some time. Couple of years back, it introduced the “Do Not Track” header, which has already been adopted by Internet Explrer, Safari, and Opera. Now, Mozilla has released an experimental add-on to showcase how personal data is being tracked across the web.

Earlier this month, Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla Corporation, unveiled Collusion. Collusion is a Firefox extension that visualizes the spider-web of interaction between websites and third-party trackers that often track you without your explicit permission. Collusion is essentially a reporting tool whose purpose is to make netizens realize just how grave the situation is. Here’s how my Collusion graph after a brief ten minute browsing session involving Techie-Buzz, TechCrunch, Mashable, and BBC.



My Collusion graph is peppered with third-party tracking website that I never explicitly browsed to. Personalized web isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can increase engagement, reduce user frustration, and improve productivity. However, the mad rush of advertisers to track users without their knowledge and permission is something that is deeply worrying. Kovacs very righty remarked that “with every click of the mouse and every touch of the screen, we are like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs of our personal information everywhere we travel through the digital woods”.

[ Download Collusion for Firefox ]

The Latest Firefox Beta for Android is Beyond Impressive!

Mozilla had been attempting to create a perfect mobile browser for Android for too long now. Its Firefox for Android has always been sloppy with a laggy user interface and bugs all over it. For this reason, I have always preferred Opera Mobile on my Android phone, though, the latest Firefox beta for Android is set to change this. It is snappier, extremely responsive and it will blow your mind. It is a vast improvement over the default featureless Android browser and finally, it looks like Firefox is geared up to compete with leading Android browsers like Opera Mini, Chrome and Dolphin HD.

This latest beta version of Firefox is reported to support more devices than earlier, and it also boasts of performance improvements like faster scrolling, optimized memory usage and of course faster browsing! All in all, the once loathed Firefox for Android has managed to impressed everyone and frankly speaking, I too am sold!

Most of these performance improvements in the latest Firefox beta can be attributed to a new responsive UI, which is using the Android native UI instead of the earlier XUL based UI developed by Mozilla. The addition of a default Flash plugin in the latest beta received mixed reactions. Nonetheless, it is an item in the feature inventory. Text rendering, and panning and zooming have also been improved a lot. Here are some screenshots for your viewing pleasure.





There are still some unimplemented features in this beta version, like text reflow, selecting text etc. I call them unimplemented features because they should appear in any latest mobile browser, and this one is a beta, so it gets the benefit of doubt.

Grab the latest Firefox for Android beta at this page on the Google Play store. Read more about the latest Firefox beta on the Mozilla blog.

Firefox 13 Will Have a Reset Button

You install Firefox on your freshly minted computer. Everything is great for a while. Firefox loads up in seconds, web pages open in a snap, and everything works. But then, over time, Firefox starts acting up. It gets slower and slower. Things that used to work stops working. Sudden freeze-ups and crashes begin appearing. I am sure this is something many of you have personally experienced. As our Firefox profile begins accumulating clutter, the performance and stability of Firefox takes a hit. This might be due to a toolbar you unknowingly installed, or some extension that has a memory leak bug. The thing is that finding out the root cause is both time consuming and frustrating.


In order to make things simpler, Mozilla is adding a magical reset button to Firefox. The new option will be available under about:support (accessible via Help –> Troubleshooting Information). Clicking on this button will create a new profile with default settings, which will hopefully solve your performance issues. Firefox will also copy over your browsing history, cookies, saved form history, saved passwords, and bookmarks. This means that you will essentially have a fresh install of Firefox, but with all of your personal data intact.


The biggest drawback of the reset feature is its location. It’s buried deep within Firefox, and is practically impossible to discover. To counter this problem, Mozilla is currently thinking about prompting the user to reset Firefox after it crashes for the third time. It is also exploring the possibility of giving Windows users this option when they are reinstalling Firefox.

Will Microsoft Face the Ire of Antitrust Regulators for Windows 8?

As you must have heard by now, Mozilla is furious. The non-profit organization behind Firefox is angry because Microsoft is practically making it impossible to develop third party browsers for Windows 8 for ARM through artificially imposed restrictions. A short while back, even Google backed Mozilla and expressed its concern about Windows 8 restricting “user choice and innovation”. My colleague Paul Paliath has already weighed in on the debate. While he believes Mozilla’s complaint is baseless, I am not quite so sure.


Before proceeding any further, let’s delve a little deeper into the technicalities involved. With Windows 8, Microsoft is introducing an entirely new class of applications. These applications will run in Metro mode, and will be built using the WinRT API. The Windows applications that we are accustomed with are all built using the Win32 API. Now, Microsoft isn’t exactly killing the Win32 API. Windows 8 for x86 (desktops) will continue to offer a classic mode, which will be capable of running all Win32 applications. However, if an app wants to run in Metro mode it has to use the new WinRT API. The trouble is that in an attempt to make WinRT power efficient, fast, and secure Microsoft ended up making it way too restrictive. Due to this, several classes of modern applications can’t be developed by leveraging WinRT alone. In order to skirt around this significant roadblock, Microsoft created a third category of applications. This category of applications have a frontend developed using WinRT, but they can also leverage the power of the Win32 API. In other words, they look like Metro apps, but offer the power and flexibility of a traditional Windows app. Unfortunately, on ARM devices, the only apps which will be allowed to leverage both WinRT and Win32 APIs are apps from Microsoft. Paul is right in saying that Microsoft isn’t specifically targeting browsers. In one fell swoop Microsoft has put all third party apps at a significant disadvantage. Whether it be office suites, media players, or browsers – all apps will have a hard time matching products from the Redmond giant as they will practically be running on two different operating systems. To make matters worse, Windows 8 for ARM won’t allow third party apps to run as pure classic apps either. Asa Dotzler explained the trouble faced by browser developers quite succinctly.

Microsoft has made it clear that the third category won’t exist on Windows for ARM (unless you’re Microsoft) and that neither will the first category (unless you’re Microsoft.) That means that IE on ARM has access to win32 APIs — even when it’s running in Metro mode, but no other Metro browser has that same access. Without that access, no other browser has a prayer of being competitive with IE.

You might be wondering exactly what kind of restrictions does WinRT impose that makes it impossible to develop a competent browser. Here’s an example – WinRT doesn’t allow translation of code at runtime. This is something absolutely critical for a technique called JIT (Just-in-time compilation). You might have heard of JIT before, as over the past few years, all browsers have been using JIT to deliver astounding improvements in JavaScript rendering speed. Lack of JIT will instantly push a browser back by several years. Keep in mind that this is just one example. Modern browsers are pushing the limits of what is possible within a browser. With the restrictive sandbox offered by WinRT, many of the bleeding edge features offered by modern browsers can’t be implemented in WinRT.

Mozilla has already issued thinly veiled threats of legal action, and considering that Windows 8 is pretty much done, the threat of another anti-trust ruling is the only thing that can realistically make Microsoft change its mind. However, is Microsoft really abusing its monopolistic position to crush competition? The answer is trickier than you might think.

Make Google+ Look Like Pinterest

Social photo-sharing and bookmarking website Pinterest has become quite a rage. Just last month, it overtook Google Plus to become the third most popular social network (behind Facebook and Twitter). Much of the success of Pinterest can be attributed to it’s simple but intuitive user interface (UI). Now, by using a simple userscript, you can skin your Google Plus stream to look like Pinterest.

Pinterest UI for Google+ is currently only available as a Greasemonkey script for Firefox; however, Chrome support is on its way. The script reformats Google+ into a multi-column grid layout ala Pinterest. It is designed for screen resolutions larger than 1024×768. On smaller screens, the script will automatically disable itself. The layout is completely fluid and adjusts to the resolution and browser window size. The new Google+ layout received a lot of flak for wasting enormous amounts of screen real-estate. This script solves that issue by making use of the entire screen width. It ensures that there is always at least three columns. When your screen is not wide enough, the posts are “compressed” into a smaller size to fit the screen width. Here’s how my stream looks with the Pinterest UI installed.


One of Google Plus’ strong points it is media integration. Large thumbnails, tight coupling with YouTube, and support for GIF animations lends it an edge over Facebook. As a result, pictures and videos often constitute a sizable portion of the Google+ activity stream. Pinterest interface for Google+ is ideally suited for circles in which a lot of media is being shared. It’s a bit messy for sure, but it also has its own advantages.

[ Download Pinterest UI for Google+ Greasemonkey Script ]

Mozilla Working on Firefox Redesign to Unify Desktop and Mobile Browsers

Mozilla designers have been pretty busy in the recent past. Mozilla introduced a significant user interface overhaul with Firefox 4, which received somewhat mixed reviews. Since then, Mozilla has periodically tweaked the interface to address many of the complaints. Now, a little more than a year after Firefox 4 was released, Mozilla is gearing up for another significant redesign.

Mozilla’s Stephen Horlander is working on a new design called “Australis” that will unify Firefox’s appearance across platforms and form factors. This includes Firefox for desktop (Windows, Unix, and Mac), Firefox for Android (phones and tablets), and Boot2Gecko.

The most distinctive features of Australis are soft textures, smooth curves, and a streamlined experience. Here’s how Firefox is expected to look in Windows, Mac, and Unix respectively.


As you can see, the tab strip has been redesigned in accordance with Australis’ design principles, and the menu button has been overhauled. It has now been merged with the address bar, and features a completely reworked layout.


Firefox for Mobile already looks a lot like the Australis mockups. It will be tweaked further to bring it in close alignment with its desktop counterpart.


We also know that Mozilla is working on a Metro compatible version of Firefox for Windows 8. Development on that still has a long way to go, but the mockups suggest that Firefox for Metro will look a lot like Firefox for Android tablets.


Although the frequent redesigns might irk some users, it’s hard to not get excited about the Australis mockups. The new design is modern, beautiful, and minimal. You can get a taste of the new Firefox design with the Australis theme that is already available in the Firefox add-on repository. Don’t forget to chime in with your take on the planned Firefox redesign.

Firefox 13 Beta Ships with SPDY Enabled by Default

SPDY has seen a major push yesterday, with Firefox finally making the move to SPDY. The latest beta of Firefox 13 arrived with SPDY enabled by default and this makes SPDY a primary candidate in the world of application layer protocols. Besides Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome are the two major browsers by market share. While Google Chrome has shipped with SPDY for a long time now, although Firefox had SPDY present from version 11 onwards, it was turned off by default. Finally, after a series of bug fixes, SPDY has made it to the latest beta of Firefox 13.

Apart from SPDY, Firefox 13 will have major behind-the-scene changes and some long-awaited UI changes too. The latest release of Firefox version 13 brings the much awaited speed dial, which is a necessity for any modern browser. Firefox 13 will also turn on smooth scrolling and on-demand tab loading, when opening tabs from a saved session.


When Google announced SPDY for the first time, it was unclear whether it would catch up with the well-established HTTP protocol. SPDY was invited to be a part of the new HTTP standard and things were off to a promising slow start. However, Google has also taken the alternate path, by marking a presence on major browsers first, and then creating a lock-in situation so that it ends up as a web-standard anyway. Nevertheless, to survive the competition with a rapidly developing browser like Google Chrome, Firefox has to improve on speed, and SPDY will be a good start.

The release notes for the latest beta can be found at this page.