Opera Announces New Webkit Based Mobile Browser – Opera Ice

Big news coming out of Oslo, Norway. Opera Software, the browser firm behind Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, is working on a new mobile browser called Opera Ice. Ice is being billed as the future of web browsing, and will be shaking things up in more ways than one.

Technically, the biggest difference between Ice and other Opera products will be its engine. Opera is one of the few browsers to have its own rendering engine, which is called Presto. The other layout engines are from Microsoft (Trident), Apple (Webkit), and Mozilla (Gecko). We might have several dozen browsers spread across numerous platforms, but all of them use one of these engines. Opera’s engine has been a source of pride for it, and has allowed it to shape web standards and lead the way with innovative features. However, it’s also the least popular of the existing engines. Since, no two engines are completely alike, this often means additional headaches for Opera in terms of website compatibility. Desktop websites have traditionally been optimized for Trident, due to Internet Explorer’s dominance. Mobile used to be a segment where Opera ruled the roost. It’s still a major player with more than 215 million mobile users. However, Webkit has emerged as the leading mobile browser engine. Google Chrome uses a modified version of Webkit, and the default Android browser as well as Chrome for Android uses Webkit. Apple’s Safari for iOS also obviously uses Webkit. Moreover, since Apple strictly restricts third-party layout engines on iOS, all iOS browsers are forced to employ Webkit. A a result of Webkit’s dominance in mobile browsers, mobile websites are invariably solely optimized for Webkit. Perhaps not wanting to play the catchup game all over again, Opera is ditching its venerable browser engine for Ice.

Opera-Ice

The change in browser engine will also help Opera to get into Apple’s iTunes App Store. Opera already has Opera Mini for iPhone and other Apple devices, but Opera Mini isn’t a complete web browser, and is ill-suited for modern, dynamic websites. “Opera mini is great, but it is not a fully-fledged offering like Chrome or Safari. There are too many sites it doesn’t work with,” noted Opera’s CEO Lars Boilesen.

Engine isn’t the only thing Opera Software is changing in Ice. It introduces a new paradigm for web browsing that is better suited for modern touch-enabled devices. Ice gets rid of the chrome entirely, and makes use of the full screen space to display content. This lends a web-app like feel to the web pages. Ice doesn’t look or feel like anything we have seen before from Opera Software. Opera’s products have never been about minimalism. They have been power horses, which offered gazillions of features to please the power users. With Ice, the priorities have changed. In fact, Opera is even going so far as to get rid of tabs. Internally, the browser will maintain tabs, but it will be abstracted from the user. One existing feature that will still be present in Ice is speed dials. However, Opera is ditching thumbnails for icons in Ice. Web search will also be retained in Ice. However, it will be completely redesigned to show live previews of results from various sources as you type your query. Check out the video embedded below to get a glimpse of Opera Ice in action. It was recorded during an internal all-hands meet held before Christmas, and was obtained by Pocket-Lint.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Opera Ice. I love the idea of a browser designed from the start-up for touch; however, I am also worried that Opera might end up hindering usability and productivity by taking minimalism too far. I will reserve my judgement for now, since we don’t have enough information. However, I really hope that Opera nails it, and will definitely be taking Opera Ice for a ride, when it shows up next month.

Firefox 18 Released with Numerous Performance Enhancements

Firefox 18 is expected to be officially released anytime now. However, as always, it has been uploaded to the FTP servers well in advance. If you wish to grab the stable release of Firefox 18 ahead of its announcement, scroll down and head over to Mozilla’s servers.

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Changelog for the final version is also yet to be revealed. However, we can get a pretty good idea about what’s new by looking at the changelog for the beta. Firefox 18 ships with the new IonMonkey JavaScript engine, which promises up to 26% improvement in speed compared to Firefox 17. Mozilla has fixed several bugs related to Firefox’s proxy handling, and users surfing behind a proxy should be able to enjoy a much faster browsing experience. Mozilla is also promising improved startup times through smart handling of signed extension certificates, in addition to performance improvements surrounding tab switching. Beginning with Firefox 18, Persona backgrounds will no longer support animated images, in order to improve performance.

There are quite a few goodies for developers also in Firefox 18, including preliminary support for WebRTC and CSS Flexible boxes. Both of these features are disabled by default, and must be enabled from about:config. Other enhancements include support for W3C touch events, better image scaling algorithm, and support for retina displays.

[ Download Firefox 18 for Windows, Mac, and Linux ]

Firefox for Android to Introduce Private Browsing and Improved Customizability in 2013

Last year, Mozilla promised to rock your World Wide Web with Firefox for Android. While Chrome is still my default browser, mainly due to a preference for its user interface, Firefox Mobile has indeed gone on to garner sizable fan base, with an impressive rating of 4.2 in the Play store.

Mozilla has revealed some of the features that are lined up for Firefox for Android in 2013. The most significant new feature to be disclosed is Private Browsing. Private Browsing has become a standard feature in desktop browsers, and several mobile browsers including Chrome and Dolphin have offered it on mobile phones also for quite some time. Incidentally, Private Browsing in Firefox for desktop is also being rewritten to offer increased flexibility.

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The other focus point for Firefox in 2013 will be enhanced customizability. The mobile edition of Firefox will support themes as well as offer a customizable start-page. “No matter how you browse with Firefox for Android — for news, the most useful sites, the funniest pages — we’ll never stop trying to give you the best and fastest experience”, Mozilla promised in its note.

The final revelation concerns increased availability, both in terms of device compatibility and language support. Mozilla didn’t offer a timeline, but promised to make these features available “soooooooon”.

Cleanup Your Facebook and Other Network Profiles with MyPermissions Cleaner

While Facebook’s one-click login button makes it really easy for users to signup for new apps and services, it also makes it ludicrously easy for malicious entities to get their hands on your private info. All they need to do is to create a quiz to lure you into sharing your Facebook profile data.

In a previous article we reviewed Privacyfix, which automatically identifies and highlights security issues in your Facebook and Google settings. One of the threats that Privacyfix identifies is app permissions. However, it doesn’t provide a quick way to withdraw access you have previously granted to various apps. Chances are that over the years you have allowed hundreds of apps to access your Facebook profile. Manually delisting them is likely to take quite a while. Thankfully, there is another browser extension, which can take care of this problem.

My-Permissions-Cleaner-Facebook-Scan

MyPermissions Cleaner is a handy extension for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox, which scans your Facebook profile and lists all apps that have access to your Facebook information, and allows you to revoke access to all apps with a single click. Ideally, you will not want to revoke access to all apps. For example, if you are an avid Instagram and Tweekdeck user, it makes sense to let these apps be. Thankfully, MyPermissions allows you to add select apps and services to a whitelist (Trusted Apps) with just a couple of clicks. Once you have whitelisted the apps you need, you can get rid of the rest of them with a single click. However, if you have several hundred apps in your list, then it might be easier to simply revoke permissions for everything and add back the apps that you use as and when required. MyPermissions Cleaner does a good job at exposing exactly what sort of info each app has access to, and allows you to filter apps by their access levels. The only trouble is that the extension doesn’t always work perfectly, and sometimes gets stuck while deleting an app. However, a page refresh generally takes care of the issue.

My-Permissions-Cleaner-Facebook-App-List

It’s not just Facebook alone, MyPermissions Cleaner currently also supports Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Dropbox, Foursquare, Instagram, Flickr, AOL, and Windows Live. For each of these services the app works in an identical manner, and offers to cleanup your app permissions. If you have never bothered to look into the apps that have access to you profiles on various networks, go ahead and do it now. Let this be your little end of the year cleaning.

[ Download MyPermissions Cleaner ]

Lock Down Your Facebook and Google Accounts with Privacyfix

Way back in 2010, just as the controversy surrounding Facebook’s Open Graph was exploding, we had reviewed a nifty bookmarklet called ReclaimPrivacy that could automatically scan your Facebook settings and highlight areas of concern. Recently I came across a Firefox and Chrome extension called PrivacyFix, which does the same thing, but better.

As soon as you install the extension, it will scan your currently-logged-in Facebook and Google accounts, as well as your browser cookies to identify privacy threats. Once it finishes scanning, you will see a neat report, which highlights potential areas of concern. Privacyfix explains each of the identified issues, and assists you in fixing them.

Privacy-Fix-Facebook-Privacy-Settings-Recommendation

Privacy Fix also maintains a database of popular websites that track and retain user data. For websites with an opt-out policy it offers to send a mail requesting to opt-you out. Additionally, it can delete existing tracking cookies, and block tracking cookies from being placed in the future.

Privacy-Fix-Facebook-Privacy-Settings-Configuration

Privacyfix is a simple, hassle-free solution that goes a long way towards avoiding accidental privacy breaches on social networks. Both Facebook and Google offer great privacy tools. Unfortunately, they are either difficult to find, or too confusing for most users. By automatically identifying and highlighting potential issues, Privacyfix makes things easier for the user. It’s a tool that even your parents could use with confidence. Go ahead and download it. There is no reason not to.

Privacy-Fix-Health-Bar

[ Download Privacyfix ]

Facebook Bans Popular Extension F.B. Purity, Again!

FB-PurityWith the turf war between social media services heating up, these services are getting more and more hostile. Startups that were once proud of their open gardens have begun constructing walls to keep out competitors. Recently we saw Instagram pulling support for cards from Twitter, possibly in reaction to Twitter blocking Instagram’s friend import feature. Facebook and Google had earlier tussled over access to contacts data. Now, in a controversial move, Facebook has slammed the ban hammer on F.B. Purity.

F.B. Purity, which stands for Fluff Busting Purity, is a browser extension (actually an userscript) that promises to get rid of all the bloat from Facebook. It filters out the annoying and irrelevant pieces in your newsfeed, such as application spam, ads, and sponsored stories. F.B. Purity’s relationship with Facebook has always been tenuous. Facebook had threatened to ban F.B. Purity as far back as 2010 for infringing on its trademark. However, the developer managed to reach an agreement with Facebook and the script survived.

Now, Facebook is outlawing F.B. Purity because “Facebook’s terms specifically prohibit interference with the way Facebook is rendered to its users”. It also alleges that the script breaks Facebook’s ToS as it doesn’t connect via Facebook API, which is the approved method for interacting with Facebook’s services. Last time around Facebook tried sniffing F.B. Purity to render it useless. However, the developer managed to quickly find a workaround. So, this time Facebook didn’t even try. Instead, it banned the developer’s Facebook account, imposed a site-wide ban on the fbpurity domain, and threatened legal action.

Of course, a cursory investigation of the way F.B. Purity works is sufficient to unravel Facebook’s allegations. F.B. Purity is neither a Facebook client nor a Facebook application. It’s an userscript or an browser extension. It doesn’t directly access Facebook’s services. It’s a client-side script that modifies the page after the browser has downloaded it. In some ways it can be considered to be a browser feature. Hence, its ridiculous to force F.B. Purity to use Facebook’s APIs.

Facebook owns its services, and as such is free to do whatever it feels like. However, its latest complaint against F.B. Purity is simply thinly veiled bullying. If courts start buying Facebook’s logic, pretty much all browser extensions and scripts including ad-blockers and pop-up blockers will become illegal. I can appreciate that Facebook is trying to protect its interest. But, it is doing so by clearly inconveniencing the users and stepping on their freedom. It should be up to the user to decide how he wants the pages to be parsed by his browser, not Facebook.

Mozilla to Introduce Support for Private Windows in Firefox 20

Apple introduced the concept of private browsing way back in 2005; however, this feature became mainstream only about three years back. When surfing in private browsing mode, the browser covers your tracks. Browsing history is not recorded, and cookies are automatically deleted once you end the session. Currently, all major browsers support private browsing. However, the implementation varies from browser to browser. Opera, which was the last major browser to support this feature, has the best implementation. It supports not only private windows, but also private tabs. Chrome and Internet Explorer on the other hand support private windows, but not private tabs. Firefox’s implementation is currently the most limited one. It supports neither private tabs nor private windows. If you enter private browsing mode, your current session is halted, all existing tabs are closed, and a new private session is created. However, this is set to change soon.

Mozilla-Firefox-Private-Browsing

Mozilla has been working on re-writing its private browsing implementation for the past 19 months, and is finally ready to showcase its progress. A new experimental build is now available, which features support for private windows. You can now begin a private browsing session in a new window while retaining your existing session. The experimental build is available for Winows, OS X, and Linux. This feature will make its mainstream debut in Firefox 20, which is scheduled to be released in March/April 2013.

[ Download Firefox with Private Windows ]

Opera Software Q3 2012 Financial Results: Mobile Drives Growth as Desktop Stalls

Opera Software has released its financials for the third quarter of 2012, and they look pretty good. Revenue grew 40% year-on-year to 56.4 million USD. However, due to a significant increase in expenses, net income fell to 6.5 million USD from 9.9 million USD in Q3 2011.

Over the past several years, Opera’s real strength has been the mobile segment. Opera Mini has been the real growth driver for the Norwegian firm. This trend continued into the recently concluded quarter. Opera finished the quarter with more than 207 million users of their mobile products alone. Opera Mini’s astronomical growth has slowed down a bit over the past few quarters, but it is still expanding its user base at a fair click. Year-on-year, Opera Mini’s user base grew by 112%. The growth was primarily driven by partnerships with operators like Airtel, Etisalat, MTN and Vodafone. Opera’s revenue from mobile consumer and mobile publishers and advertisers grew by more than 400%. Perhaps most crucially, Opera exhibited strong growth in Android with 300% year-on-year increase in users. As more and more people move away from feature phones to smartphones, Opera will have to keep on innovating to grab a slice of the smartphone segment.

Opera-Financials-Revenue-Q3-2012

Opera for desktop on the other hand, remained to be an area of concern. Opera exhibited practically no growth with just 2% increase in user base year-on-year. Currently, Opera for desktop has 55 million active users. Opera admitted during its Q&A with the investors that it’s not happy with the desktop growth and the impact of Opera 12 was less than expected. Opera Software promised strong products at the beginning of 2013, which suggests that Opera 12.20 will be released within a few months. Although, Opera didn’t manage to expand its reach, revenue from desktop increased quite nicely from 13 million USD in Q3 2011 to 19 million USD in Q3 2012.

Opera-Financials-Users-Revenue-Desktop

Internet Explorer 10 Coming to Windows 7 Next Month

Internet-Explorer-10Microsoft has a horrible track record when it comes to supporting older operating systems. Now, don’t get me wrong – they continue publishing patches and hotfixes for a Windows release for several years. However, when it comes to supporting older operating systems in their software, Microsoft often plays it dirty. For example, Internet Explorer 9 introduced a host of new features, but was limited to only Windows 7 and Vista. Similarly, Windows Live dropped support for XP in 2009 with Wave 3. This stands in stark contrast with software from third parties like Opera Software, which continues to support even Windows 2000.

The story is no different with Internet Explorer 10. IE 10 will be baked into Windows 8, and will arrive for Windows 7 in November. However, there is a big caveat. Windows 7 users will only get a preview release next month, and will have to wait further for the final release. Not only is Microsoft ignoring older operating systems like Vista, but it is already treating Windows 7 users as second class citizens.

Firefox 16.01 for Desktop and Android Plugs Security Vulnerability

Just a day after releasing Firefox 16, Mozilla pulled the update citing security concerns. Needless to say this was a pretty unusual move. Typically any security vulnerability present in a major release is fixed through point updates. Removing a new release was a drastic move, which indicated that Mozilla reckoned that the vulnerability had a significant chance of being exploited in the wild.

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The vulnerability concerned could allow a malicious site to potentially determine which websites users have visited and have access to the URL or URL parameters. The security vulnerability was actually more of a privacy issue that could become a security issue on stupidly coded websites that use GET to transmit confidential information.

Mozilla released a fix for the Android version yesterday, and an updated desktop version was released moments ago. You can download Firefox 16.01 from here, or you can wait for your Firefox installation to automatically download the latest version.