Microsoft Disses WebGL, Calls It Harmful

WebGLWebGL is a cross-platform 3D graphics API for the web that is being adopted by the likes of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera in order to usher in next-gen graphics intensive web applications. However, one major browser vendor has decided to distance itself from the pack, and has announced that it won’t be supporting WebGL. No points for guessing who that browser vendor is. It is none other than Microsoft.

Microsoft has a terrible track record when it comes to adopting new standards. They have been trying to turn a new leaf, but there have been several missteps along the way. They also happen to be the folks behind DirectX, the main competitor of OpenGL, which forms the basis for WebGL. So, its not all that surprising that Microsoft has decided to diss WebGL. However, before the knives come out, Microsoft might actually be right for a change.

Microsoft’s objection is based on the fact that WebGL, in spite of claims to the contrary by the Khronos Group, isn’t really secure. Microsoft explained the technicalities behind its objections in a fair amount of detail in its TechNet blog post. The three main points raised by Microsoft are:

  1. WebGL provides low-level hardware access in a way that is overly permissive.
  2. Even security procedures put in place can be circumvented due to the presence of vulnerabilities in the graphics driver. The onus for ensuring security will fall on the driver manufacturers and not on the browser or operating system vendor. Users rarely update their hardware drivers; and even the manufactures themselves aren’t accustomed to releasing frequent and quick security updates.
  3. Modern operating systems and graphics infrastructure were never designed to fully defend against attacker-supplied shaders and geometry. It might become possible for hackers to crash and reboot systems at will by supplying malformed data.

Microsoft believes that WebGL will likely become an ongoing source of hard-to-fix vulnerabilities, and this is a concern that has been raised before by third parties. WebGL is an exciting piece of technology. It is also something that is required to push the boundaries of what can be done within a web app. Microsoft might be playing spoil sport; however, with the current design flaws in WebGL, Microsoft’s stance also makes a lot of sense. Let’s hope that the Khronos Group will manage to find a way to assuage the concerns surrounding WebGL.

Mozilla’s Prospector Extension for Firefox Guesses Which Website You Want to Browse Next

Speed dials, in one form or the other, has become the norm in modern browsers. Opera invented the feature, and it has since then been adopted by Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. One browser that has been missing this feature is Firefox. However, that might be about to change.

Mozilla has announced a new Labs initiative called Prospector. Mozilla is attempting to take speed dials to the next level by making it context aware. The Prospector extension adds predictive speed dials, which lists bookmarks and previously visited webpages that it feels are relevant to the webpage you are currently browsing. In short, it tries to guess which website you are most likely to browse next.

Firefox searches both your bookmarks and history for similar websites that you may be interested in based on what you were recently browsing. This is currently displayed along with some experimental statistics such as score (which is how similar the tags are), frequency (which is a measure of frequency and recency) and others.

Prospector-Predictive-Speed-Dial-Firefox

All the computation required for the predictive speed dial is done locally, and no data is sent out by your browser. Mozilla says that a well maintained and tagged set of bookmarks will help Firefox is throwing up more relevant results; however, it is not essential.

While the idea behind Predictive Newtab is undoubtedly interesting, it’s impossible to say how well it works without testing it for a few days. Opera’s speed dial concept works as well as it does because it is simple. Most people have a dozen websites that they visit really frequently, and Opera allows users to set those websites as speed dials. Chrome tries to do this automatically by relying on frequency count to cull a list of most visited websites. Firefox is trying to rank websites based on frequency and relevance. However, without a well maintained set of tagged bookmarks (or crowdsourcing), determining relevance can be a hard thing. Additional indicators like meta-tags can be considered; however, Firefox doesn’t appear to be doing that. Moreover, relevance often doesn’t have anything to do with the next website that I am likely to browse. The fact that I currently have a Gmail tab open doesn’t necessarily imply that I am going to browse Yahoo Mail or Hotmail next.

You can go ahead and download the Prospector extension from here. Don’t forget to share your experience with the Prospector extension. If Mozilla’s experiment succeeds, then Predictive Newtab could very well show up in future versions of Firefox.

Opera 11.50 Beta Released, Introduces Password Sync and Speed Dial Extensions

It’s been just about six weeks since Opera Software unleashed Barracuda (Opera 11.10) on us, but they are already ready with the beta build of the next major release – Opera 11.50. Swordfish, the codename for the latest offering from Opera, upgrades a couple of existing features besides introducing plenty of under the hood changes.

Opera-Swordfish

The highlight of Opera 11.50 Beta is the addition of extension support to speed dials. Speed dial is easily one of the best known features of Opera. Barracuda spruced up speed dial by tweaking its visual aspects. Now, with Swordfish, Opera Software is adding another dimension to them by transforming them from being static thumbnails of websites to dynamic web-applications. To show off what you can do with speed dial extensions, Opera Software has developed a few neat extensions including a weather extension and a feed reader extension. Several more have already been developed by the community, and Opera is holding a competition to encourage the development of creative speed dial extensions.

Opera-Swordfish-Speed-Dial-Extensions

The other improvement is something that users had been requesting for a long time; the ability to sync passwords using Opera Link. This feature has been in the works for a while. Opera avoided rushing this feature through as it wanted to get the security measures absolutely right before unveiling it.

There are numerous minor usability improvements including a new interface for adding speed dials and support for Ctrl+Click to open links in new tab. The rendering engine has been bumped up to Presto 2.8, which features improved standards support.

Earlier this month, Opera changed the way it delivers releases. Previously, all releases, including snapshots, alphas, betas, release candidates, and final builds, had a similar installer. Now, Opera has decided to differentiate between final builds and test builds. All non-final builds will now be delivered as Opera Next. The advantage of Opera Next is that it is completely insulated from the final stable builds, and thus can be used safely without breaking the existing installation of Opera. This is similar to the way Mozilla and Google deals with Firefox and Chrome releases. For example, Aurora, Minefield and final builds for Firefox are insulated from each other. However, unlike Google and Mozilla, Opera Software will not be following a time based release cycle. Instead it will be sticking to the well-established tradition of releasing new versions only when there is actually some significant improvement to deliver. We don’t make releases for the sake of releases, nor do we make innovations for the sake of innovation, teased Jan Standal, VP of desktop products, Opera. We create browsers that make the Web faster and easier to use, and the newest features in Swordfish support that goal.

[ Download Opera 11.50 ]

Opera Mini 6 Lands on the iPad and the iPhone

The wait is over. Opera Mini 6 for iOS is finally here. Back in March, Opera Software released Opera Mini 6 and Opera Mobile 11 for a host of platforms including Android and Symbian. However, iPhone and iPad users were left in the lurch as Opera awaited App Store approval from Apple.

Opera-Mini-6-iPad-iPhone

The iOS edition benefits from the same improvements that Opera introduced to other mobile platforms. The new release is optimized for the higher resolution offered by iPhone 4 and the iPad. It also features a super smooth and fast pan and zoom. The shades of red that have long characterized Opera’s mobile releases have made way for sleek black gradients, the menus has been redesigned, and a new share button has been added. It’s now possible to share the web page you are currently surfing on My Opera, Facebook, Twitter and vKontakte.

Opera-Mini-6-iPad

Opera Mini offers a faster alternative to the excellent Safari browser that every iOS device ships with. The restrictive nature of the App Store ToS (Terms of Service) makes it impossible for third parties to publish browsers that don’t use the inbuilt Safari rendering engine. Opera Mini skirts around this restriction by offloading all the code crunching to its remote servers. When you request a web page, that web page is rendered on Opera’s servers, and a highly compressed static representation of the page is sent back to the browser. This can significantly speed up browsing on slower networks, and also save bandwidth. However, it also has some notable disadvantages. Opera Mini’s handling of dynamic webpages is clumsy. For example, every time you click on a link that performs some JavaScript action, the entire is reloaded as the script is run on Opera’s servers and the result is sent back to your device. Nevertheless, Opera Mini does have some nifty features like save, text search, opera link (profile synchronization), and speed dials (visual bookmarks) that makes it a worthwhile alternative. You can grab the latest version from the App Store.

Google and 16 Other Companies Come Together to Form the WebM Community Cross-License Initiative

WebMI have always advocated the use of royalty free codecs (first Ogg-Theora and then WebM) for the HTML5 <video> tag. The WebM movement has been slowly but surely gaining momentum since its inception. We have already seen almost all the the major desktop browser vendors (Google, Opera Software, Mozilla and Microsoft*) adopt Google’s open source and royalty free media format. Desktop media players like Winamp are beginning to embrace WebM. And, perhaps most crucially, chip makers like Intel are working to add WebM support at the hardware level.

One of the biggest challenges for WebM is the intellectual properties issue. It’s no secret that the patent system is seriously messed up. Some of the patents granted to the members of MPEG LA, the consortium that owns the patent pool for H.264, are so broad and ambiguous that it’s almost impossible to develop a media codec without violating them. Nevertheless, Google has maintained that WebM doesn’t infringe any existing patents, and is a clean and reliable royalty free alternative to H.264. A couple of months back, MPEG LA, the entity that stands to loose the most from the success of WebM, called upon its members to submit patents essential to the VP8 video codec specification, presumably in preparation of a patent infringement lawsuit..

With the threat of legal action looming, all the companies involved and interested in the growth of WebM have formed a cross-license initiative. It’s essentially a consortium that will freely share all patents related to WebM on a royalty free basis. Google was already working closely with Xiph (maintainers of the Ogg audio format) and Matroska (maintainers of the Matroska video container). Additionally, CCL includes the likes of AMD, LG, Mozilla, Opera Software, Samsung, and Texas instruments. The hope is that with the backing of these corporations, WebM will be able to tackle any legal challenge that it might have to face in the future.

*Internet Explorer 9 can play WebM videos provided that the required codecs have already been installed.

Firefox Racks Up 100 Million Downloads in One Month

Mozilla might have come under heavy criticism over the past few months; however, clearly a lot of people still love Firefox. Within a month of its release, Firefox 4 has managed to cross 100 million downloads. Firefox 4 was a major update for the popular open source browser from Mozilla. Not only did it modernize Firefox’s interface, but it also (mostly) fixed the performance issues that plagued Firefox 3. Unfortunately, the massive overhaul also made it a challenging update to ship. Firefox 4 slipped from schedule on multiple occasions, and ultimately, some of the planned features had to be dropped.

Firefox-4

According to StatCounter, nearly 8% of global internet users currently use Firefox 4. While that’s an impressive figure, more than 18% users are still on Firefox 3.6. So, there’s still plenty of room for Firefox 4 to grow. Internet Explorer continues to dominate the charts, with IE 8 commanding nearly 30% of the browser market. With nearly 17% market share, Chrome 10 is the third most popular browser out there.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Version Market Share

Firefox 4 could well be the last big release for Firefox. Mozilla has decided to ditch the old update model in favor of a newer release cycle with faster iterations. This means that future versions of Firefox will have fewer new features in every release; however, we should get a new version of Firefox every 6 weeks. To facilitate this process, Mozilla recently launched a new channel called Aurora.

Even as Firefox continues to enjoy massive download figures, Chrome has managed to establish itself as a serious competitor, and is turning on the heat on Firefox and Internet Explorer. Opera Software has also stuck to its reputation of delivering innovative new features; however, it hasn’t quite manage to break free and make significant inroads. With Microsoft also upping its game, Mozilla truly has its work cutout. Checkout our earlier coverage to get a lowdown on the new features being considered for Firefox 5, and don’t forget to let us know if you have downloaded Firefox 4 or not.

Flock Browser – Official End of Support

flock-icon-250x250The original Kingof social browsers is as good as dead. The Flock web browser will dieon April 26th. Back in January, we told you that Zynga Acquires Flock; May Take Social Gaming To A New Level. As you probably know, Zynga is the social gaming power-house behind Farmville, Mafia Wars and a dozen other popular social games.

What wasn’t expected by many Flock users, was that they’d be abandoned so quickly, without anything to take Flock’s place. I just received my End of Supportletter today. Apparently they made the announcement on April 13th.

Flock said the following it their FAQ:

Flock will no longer be actively maintained, which means you can keep using the product, but key features will stop working after 4/26/11 and over time the browser will no longer be secure as software updates and upgrades will no longer be provided.

Here was one of the immediate responses from the Flock faithful.

David S: This sucks big time! Zynga’s decision to shut down this fabulous browser is an outrage and should be condemned. I have officially boycotted all other Zynga products and encourage others to do so as well. … I curse the day they purchased the property …

Since Zynga has decided to kill the Flock browser, what do they recommend that their users do now? Here’s what they said:

There are many browser choices. We recommend either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

I think most people expected that Zynga/Flock would work on a new browser that is designed to work with social gaming. All bets are off now, but if you still want to use a good social web browser, I’d recommend Rockmelt, which gives you built-in access to Facebook and Twitter.

Hey Microsoft, HTML5 isn’t Native, Because the Web isn’t Supposed to be Native!

As you must have read by now, Microsoft introduced the first platform preview of Internet Explorer 10 at the MIX11 conference. The announcement surprised many, including yours truly, since Microsoft is known for dragging its heels over Internet Explorer. There was a gap of five years between Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7, and a further gap of three years between Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8. Say what you want about Internet Explorer, but a significant portion of internet users still rely on Microsoft’s browser for surfing the web. Rapidly evolving IE augurs well, not only for Microsoft and IE users, but also the entire web. It’s all well and good if Opera or Chrome or Firefox implements cutting edge standards, but not many developers are going to use those features unless Internet Explorer also supports it.

Internet-Explorer-10-Platform-Preview

Over the past year or so, Microsoft has largely been saying the right things, and making the right moves. Internet Explorer 9, which was a huge improvement over Internet Explorer 8, introduced support for several HTML5 and CSS3 standards. With Internet Explorer 10, Microsoft is continuing to focus on making IE even more developer friendly and standards compliant. The first developer preview itself has a fairly impressive changelog. CSS3 Multi-column Layout, CSS3 Grid Layout, CSS3 Flexible Box Layout, CSS3 Gradients, and ES5 Strict Mode are some of the major new features Microsoft has implemented. These are changes that should thrill developers, and excite general web users. IE 10 platform preview should be winning accolades. Instead, Microsoft has once again managed to annoy developers and web standards enthusiasts.

In the past, Microsoft has been heavily criticized for twisting facts, spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), and talking out of its behind. Microsoft has been trying to turn over a new leaf, but old habits die hard. Yesterday’s announcement was full of buzz-words and half-truths meant to influence the average joe. Microsoft’s official announcement proclaimed:

The only native experience of the Web and HTML5 today is on Windows 7 with IE9. IE9’s approach to taking advantage of what the operating system offers from the native graphics stack to jump lists in the shell maximizes performance, usability, and reliability.

The trouble is that no one is quite sure as to exactly what Microsoft means by native web and HTML5 experience. The phrase native webis by itself is an oxymoron. The web isn’t supposed to be native. The web is supposed to be operating system and hardware independent. The web is supposed to be open and uniform. While HTML5 and CSS3 strive to deliver a native app like experience, there’s definitely no such thing as native HTML5.

Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate VP of Internet Explorer, wrote, The best HTML5 is native to the operating system, so Web sites have the fewest translation layers to pass through. Like all PR-speak, this statement is purposefully ambiguous, and conveys a false sense of superiority.

Microsoft is also making a lot of noise about “full hardware acceleration” support. However, as far as I know, Firefox 4 supports hardware accelerated compositing on most platforms, Chrome has been testing this for a long time through the beta channels, and Opera has demoed it in a labs build.

Dismayed at Microsoft’s shady tactics, people have already begun speaking out. While Haavard from Opera Software lambasted Microsoft, Mike Beltzner (ex-director of Firefox) decided to be cheeky and sarcastic.

Native-HTML5

The use of dubious and shady marketing speak wasn’t Microsoft’s only blunder. In an attempt to justify the lack of Window XP support, Dean Hachamovitch wrote, Others have dropped support on Windows XP for functionality that we think is fundamental to performance. Others here implies Google Chrome, which removed GPU acceleration and WebGL for Windows XP in Chrome 10. However, what Hachamovitch ignored to mention was that Google intends to re-enable these features in Chrome 11 on Windows XP systems with reasonably up-to-date drivers. He also forgot to mention Firefox and Opera two browsers that have already demonstrated that Windows XP is fully capable of running modern browsers.

Through its reckless behavior in the 90s, Microsoft almost become synonymous with evil. It has been desperately trying to rebuild its image over the past few years. Internet Explorer 10 has lots of stuff that are worth getting excited about. Sure, a lot of it is stuff that other browsers have already implemented. However, the IE team has clearly been doing a pretty decent job over the past year or so. Cheap antics like this will only tarnish the efforts put in by the Internet Explorer developers, and antagonize users. We are already well into the new decade. It’s high time that Microsoft stops treating every one of us like a moron, and lets the products speak for themselves.

Microsoft About To Release Internet Explorer 10 Platform Preview [Video]

Believe it or not, Microsoft is gearing up to launch the first platform preview of Internet Explorer 10, just a month after releasing Internet Explorer 9. Yes, this is the same company that took five years to move from Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 7, and three more years for the next update.

Spurred by declining market share, Microsoft intends on releasing platform previews at regular intervals until the beta stage is reached. Platform previews are solely meant for developers, and doesn’t include most of the user oriented features.

Microsoft will probably release the first platform preview of Internet Explorer 10 at the MIX11 keynote. Stay tuned to Techie Buzz for more updates. Microsoft has mistakenly released the Internet Explorer 10 video in advance. However, it was pulled down as I was updating this post. The first platform preview includes features like CSS 3 gradients, multi-column layouts, and grid Layouts. Microsoft has already updated the Internet Explorer Test Drive website. Here are snaps from the video that got pulled down by Microsoft.

Internet-Explorer-10-CSS-3-Gradients
Internet Explorer 10: CSS3 Gradients
Internet-Explorer-10-CSS-3-Multi-Column-Layout
Internet Explorer 10: CSS3 Multi-Column Layout
Internet-Explorer-10-CSS-3-Gradients
Internet Explorer 10: Full Hardware Acceleration

Update: Here’s the video, via WinRumors.

Opera 11.10 Released; Features Faster Turbo, Prettier Speed Dials, and More

Opera Software has just released the final build of Opera 11.10, codenamed as Barracuda. For a point update, Barracuda features a pretty impressive change log.

Opera-Barracuda-Speed-Dial

Visually, the biggest change is the new “flow layout” for speed dials. Opera has given a facelift to one of its most popular features. No longer are you limited to a pre-defined number of speed dials, which are nothing but visual bookmarks embedded in the “New Tab” page. Now, you can (theoretically) add as many shortcuts as you want. The layout is automatically adjusted depending upon your screen resolution and the number of speed dial entries. There is also a zoom slider, which can be used to manually configure the speed dial layout. The thumbnails are now generated using a smart algorithm, and are a lot prettier.

Internally, Barracuda features a new version of Presto, Opera’s rendering engine. New developer oriented features include support for CSS3 multi-column layouts and gradients, the Web Open Font Format (WOFF), and Google’s WebP image protocol. After Chrome, Opera is the first browser to support WebP, Google’s new lossy image format, which provides 39% (on an average) better compression than standard JPEG images.

One of the best ways to speed up your surfing experience when you are on a slow internet connection is to use Opera Turbo. Now, with a little help from WebP, Opera is taking Turbo to the next level.

By reducing the size of the webpage, the Opera Turbo feature boosts browsing speeds by four times or more. In previous versions, this meant reducing the quality of images. Now, overall image quality is greatly improved thanks to our engineering brains and the use of Google’s new WebP image format. In our lab tests, the new Opera Turbo produces 35 percent smaller pages and was 15 percent faster than Opera 11.

Opera-Turbo
Opera Turbo with Enhanced Image Compression

Another handy improvement is the introduction of seamless plugin installation. Unlike some of its competitors, Opera has decided against including popular plugins like Flash in the installer itself. Instead it will automatically download the required plugin in the background, when it is required.

There are numerous other minor improvements like discoverability and a power saving mode (for Windows Vista and Windows 7). Go ahead and take Opera 11.10 for a spin on your Windows, UNIX or Mac machine by downloading it from www.opera.com.