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.

Google Announces a Slew of New Features to Make Searching Even Faster

It’s a well-known fact that Google is obsessed with speed. Heck, they created a whole new browser, and even developed an alternative to the http protocol to speed things up. Now, they have announced four new features for its core search offerings that it hopes will enable the user to find the information he wants faster than ever before.

Google Voice Search: Voice search is something that the mobile edition of Google Search has been capable of doing for quite some time, and now Google is introducing the same feature to the desktop edition also. This feature will leverage the new HTML5 speech input API. As long as you have a mic and a browser that supports HTML5 voice recognition (currently that means only Chrome 11), you will be able to search the web through speech.

Google Search by Image: Google has been doing image recognition for quite some time through its remarkably cool Google Goggles app. Now it is adding similar capabilities to its desktop Google Image search. Users will be able to snap pictures, drag and drop existing images, or paste the link of an image to get relevant results.

Google Images with Instant: Almost a year after successfully launching Instant, Google is incorporating the same feature to its image search engine. For now, Instant for Google Images will be restricted only to users who opt in for the experiment. However, within the next couple of months, Google will roll it out to all domains and languages where Instant is already available for Search.

Google Instant Pages: One of Google’s earliest attempts at speeding up surfing was its ill-fated Web Accelerator software, which essentially prefetched pages (loaded web pages in advance). Although poor execution ensured that the Web Accelerator died a quick death, it did succeed in demonstrating that prefetching, if done smartly, can be advantageous. Now Google is baking in something similar into Chrome. On occasions where Google is fairly confident that the first result answers your query, it will load the page in advance. Instant Pages is currently limited to the developer version of Chrome, but will be included in the next beta of Chrome.

Mac OS X Lion – Beauty with Brains

As expected, Apple showcased Lion, the next edition of OS X, at WWDC 2011 in San Francisco. The Lion is a major release with more than 250 new features. Due to time considerations, Apple didn’t detail all of them. However, it did give a rundown of the top ten features. We have already discussed most of them in the past; nevertheless, here’s another quick look at some of show stealers in OS X Lion.

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Multi-touch gestures: Apple (correctly) believes that touchscreens are simply not feasible on notebooks and desktops. The vertical form factor makes them unintuitive and annoying. Instead of trying to add touch support to the Lion, Apple has chosen to integrate multi-touch gestures. All new Apple notebooks feature multi-touch trackpads, and desktop users can use the Magic Mouse to enjoy the goodness of multi-touch. All popular gestures including pinch-to-zoom and two finger zoom will be present in the Lion. The Lion will do away with scrollbars, which will now show up only when you are scrolling.

Full Screen Apps: Lion will feature a new full-screen mode, which can be easily leveraged by application developers. Several inbuilt applications like iPhoto, iMovie, and Safari will have full screen support. Full screen mode can be triggered via a control present in the upper-right corner, and applications can be switched by simply swiping.

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Mission Control: Two of the best productivity enhancing features of Mac are Expose and Spaces. Expose provides a quick overview of open applications, and Spaces groups those applications in a neat and customizable manner. Mission Control marries these two features. Mission Control displays all open applications, along with widgets and spaces, and multiple instances of open applications are grouped into stacks. Essentially, it is a task switcher on steroids.

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Mac App Store: The Mac App Store has already surpassed big names like Best Buy and Walmart, and is currently the #1 channel for buying Mac software. The App Store will be built into the Leopard, and will feature automatic updates, push notifications, and sandboxing (isolation of untrusted apps from the system).

Launchpad: Apple has taken the application screen in iOS that we are already familiar with, and added it to Lion. Launchpad displays all installed applications in a full screen, multi-page, grid layout.

Resume, Autosave and Versions: These three are my favorite features in Lion simply because they can be a real time and life saver. Lion is capable of automatically saving your work across the system. It also saves the application state. So when you quit an application and then relaunch it, everything from the opened documents and toolbar placement to highlighted text is same as before. Lion supports versioning, and multiple copies of the same document are maintained. It is essentially per-document Time Machine, which allows you to go back and restore past copies of a document, or even mix and match different versions of a document. The versioning system is storage efficient as only changes between different document versions are saved, instead of the entire document.

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Mac-OS-X-Lion-Versions

AirDrop: This is a peer-to-peer (P2P) application that makes sharing files over the Wi-Fi a breeze. You can share any file with a fellow AirDrop user by simply dragging and dropping the file on the user’s thumbnail in the AirDrop application interface.

Mac-OS-X-Lion-Air-Drop

Mail: Lion features a significantly spruced up Mail. Apple has taken oodles of inspiration from Google, and has added conversations, search suggestions, labels, favorites and folders to Mail. Search in particular is quite powerful and flexible. The interface has also been changed. The new Mail sports a two column layout that looks quite similar to the iOS email client.

Mac-OS-X-Lion-Mail

Although, Mac is still way behind Windows in terms of market share, it has been making steady progress. According to Apple, it has outgrown the industry every quarter for the past five years. Mac has a user base of 54 million around the world. While the sales figure of Windows 7 alone dwarfs the entire Mac user base, it is worth noting that while PC has shrunk 1%, the Mac has grown 28%.

The developer preview of OS X Lion will be released later today, while the final build will be available in July. Snow Leopard users can purchase the Lion directly from the Mac App Store for as little as $29.99. In other words, Apple is releasing Lion as a standard Mac application. This means that Lion will be available on all authorized devices, and will weigh less than 4 GB. The upgrade process will be seamless for Mac users, while for users migrating from Windows, there will be a Windows Migration Assistant.

The Lion takes ample inspiration from iOS for iPhone and iPad, and builds on the already strong foundation of OS X. It’s an attractive operating system, which seems to have the right combination of beauty, grace, brains and power.

Images via Engadget

Windows 8 Cloud Features Detailed [Screenshots]

Last year, a bunch of presentations detailing planned Windows 8 enhancements were leaked. Those documents gave us a glimpse of what Microsoft was planning for the next iteration of Windows. It was obvious that one of the key differentiators for Windows 8 is going to be cloud integration. Back then, I wrote:

With Windows 8, user accounts will finally become user centric. Your cloud based user account will follow you, from machine to machine.

Now, some leaked screenshots and some sleuthing from MDL forum members, have thrown up a fair amount of concrete information on Window 8’s cloud integration. According to Microsoft, more than 52% PC users work on multiple computers on a regular basis. In order to make switching between workstations effortless, Windows 8 will be introducing ‘Roaming Profiles’. When you logon to different devices using your ‘connected password’, your settings will be automatically transferred to the device. The ‘Roaming Options’ Control Panel item will allow you to add or remove the following from your roaming profile:

  • Desktop Wallpaper
  • Aero Glass Color
  • Ease of access control panel
  • Magnifier
  • On screen keyboard
  • Narrator
  • Speech recognition settings
  • Language profile
  • Text prediction preferences
  • IME dictionary
  • Application settings and search history
  • Windows Taskbar settings
  • Windows Explorer settings
  • Windows Search settings
  • Windows Mouse settings
  • Wireless network profiles
  • Saved website credentials

Windows-8-Roaming-Profile

Interestingly enough, as pointed out by Long Zheng, Windows 8 seems to have the ability to detect if you are using a metered internet connection, or a connection with low bandwidth cap.

Windows-8-Roaming-Profile

Furthermore, another MDL forum member has posted a screenshot that shows the cloud authentication feature in action. Windows 8 will provide the option of either logging in as a local user, or logging in using cloud identification. Quite obviously, Microsoft will be tapping into the Windows Live network for the cloud oriented features.

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The public beta of Windows 8 is still several months away. In the meantime, if you want to get a taste of Windows 8, go ahead and download the leaked Windows 8 M2 (pre-M3) release.

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.

YouTube Beefs up Its Movie Rental Service in a Big Way

YouTubeEarlier today, news broke that Netflix is officially bigger than Comcast or any other cable provider in the United States. We all knew that this was bound to happen, but how soon it has happened surprised quite a few people. In the near future, cable providers will be reduced to mere suppliers of dumb-pipes, as consumers with busy schedules will begin to rely almost exclusively on streaming content provided by the likes of Netflix. Apples knows this, as does Google.

Apple jumped into the game a few years back by expanding its iTunes store. Google joined in last year, by adding a rentals section to YouTube (for US users only). However, YouTube video rentals has failed to make much of an impression. In fact, most people aren’t even aware that YouTube has a section for renting movies and television shows.

The main limiting factor for YouTube has been its tiny and uninteresting catalog. However, that might be about to change. According to TheWrap, YouTube has inked a deal with several big studios, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Brothers and Universal. Fox and Paramount are apparently still not onboard. However, YouTube should now at least be able to expand its catalog beyond niche and old movies and television shows.

YouTube is expected officially announce the expansion of its video-on-demand service within a couple of weeks. Exactly how much of a competition it is able to offer to iTunes and Netflix will depend on multiple factors, including the success of Google TV, and Android tablets. If Google can make the process of purchasing and viewing content from different devices seamless, then YouTube rentals might just manage to become a household name like Netflix and iTunes in the near future.

Windows 8 to Feature a Pattern Logon Screen for TouchScreen Users [Video]

The folks at MyDigitalLife have done it again. A user has managed to uncover a pattern logon screen in Windows 8 that is similar to the authentication system found in Android. Previously, MDL forum members had managed to unlock several hidden features like Ribbon UI (user interface) for Windows Explorer, Advanced Task Manager, native PDF viewer, and native WebCam application.

The pattern logon screen is obviously targeted at touchscreen users, although it can also be operated using a mouse. Windows 8 is being designed from the ground-up keeping multiple form factors in mind. It will be the first version of Windows to support ARM chipsets, which power majority of the handheld devices (including tablets). Other tablet oriented features we have seen includes a more touchscreen friendly task manager, and an immersive version of Internet Explorer. Immersive Internet Explorer uses the desktop Trident rendering engine, but has a tile-based user interface similar to IE for Windows Phone 7.

Windows-8-Pattern-Logon-Screen

The undesirability of Windows 7 as a tablet operating system has already left Microsoft playing catchup in, what Apple terms as, the “post-PC” segment. Once again, Android seems to be the only operating system that can mount a serious challenge to the iOS. Microsoft will need to do a lot more than just integrate bits and pieces of Metro and Ribbon, if it hopes to catchup. Windows M3 was released to trusted partners on March 29. If and when that build gets leaked, we should get a better idea about the direction Microsoft intends to take with Windows 8. In the meanwhile, check out this video to watch the new logon interface in action.

Grooveshark Responds to Android Market Ban, Says It’s Not Sure Exactly Why Google Booted It

Yesterday, we reported that Google had removed the popular music streaming app Grooveshark from the Android Market due to ToS (Terms of Service) violations. While, Google didn’t clarify exactly which aspect of the ToS was violated, most people assumed that Grooveshark was booted due to alleged copyright infringements.

GroovesharkGoogle’s move caught almost everyone by surprise, including Grooveshark. “We were surprised by Google’s removal of the Grooveshark App from the Android Market Place, and are still unclear as to what policies have now been violated”, read a statement from Grooveshark’s PR.

Back in August, Grooveshark was pulled from the iOS App Store due to complaints from Universal, which is currently suing Grooveshark for copyright violations. It’s most likely that Universal is the reason why Grooveshark was removed from the Android Market also. Taking a dig at the record labels, Grooveshark said, “We are eagerly looking to enter into agreements with all labels and content owners, so that we can work together to the benefit of all parties. To be effective, these agreements, however, must be struck directly with the respected content owners in the boardroom not the courtroom.”

Although Grooveshark does have agreements with several labels, it has so far managed to rope in only one of the big four music labels – EMI. The main complaint against Grooveshark is that users can upload any music on Grooveshark. This means that unlicensed works often end up in its music catalog. Grooveshark is known to respond quickly to DMCA notices, and ban repeat offenders. However, that hasn’t quite satisfied the music labels.

Here’s the full statement from Grooveshark:

We were surprised by Google’s removal of the Grooveshark App from the Android Market Place, and are still unclear as to what policies have now been violated. We have always had a positive relationship with Google as evidenced by the Grooveshark App’s active and featured presence in the Android Marketplace for the past one and a half years.

We respect copyright law and the rights of content owners, generating positive results and revenues for the artists and labels that we have agreements with. Regarding the content for which we do not have agreements in place yet, we abide by, and pay royalties, according to the rules outlined in the DMCA, the same legal act that governs Google and YouTube’s activities.

We are eagerly looking to enter into agreements with all labels and content owners, so that we can work together to the benefit of all parties. To be effective, these agreements, however, must be struck directly with the respected content owners in the boardroom not the courtroom.

Twitter To Introduce Facebook-Like Branded Pages

According to Shearman of Marketing Magazine, Twitter is currently developing “Branded Pages”, which will be similar to Facebook Pages for brands. Details are scarce at the moment; however, these customizable pages will give brands more freedom to showcase content, and communicate with users.

Twitter

It will be interesting to see how far Twitter is willing to go with branded pages. There’s a lot it can potentially do, including allowing brands to integrate rich media content, run promotions, and track performance through analytics. However, it will also have to do a careful balancing to ensure that user experience is not unfavorably affected.

“It seems interesting and a natural progression, but I’m interested in the features”, Nick Gonzales, VP of Operations at Nervora Digital Media Group in the UAE told ReadWriteWeb. Numerous brands, including the likes of Dell and Starbucks are already successfully leveraging Twitter to drive sales. If and when branded pages is launched, there should be quite a few takers for it.

Twitter is no longer the billion dollar product without an actual business model. Over the past couple of years it has managed to monetize itself through a series of promoted products (promoted trends, promoted tweets, promoted account etc.) and firehose access deals with search engines. However, there is obviously a lot more room for monetization. The biggest challenge for Twitter has been to find ways to monetize its service without irking its existing user base. However, in the recent past it has succeeded in annoying both users and developers through its #dickbar and #dickmove. Nevertheless, branded pages is something that should be a lot less controversial. In fact, it done right, it should turn out to be popular with both brands and users.

Google’s Gmail Motion April Fools’ Day Joke Turned Into Reality with Kinect

As we are aware, Google loves itself some April Fools gags. The more memorable pranks from Google include the likes of Pigeon Rank, Google Gulp, Gmail Paper, Google Topeka, CADIE, and Animal Translator. This year, the Gmail team announced the launch of Gmail Motion – a cutting edge technology that can use your computer’s built-in webcam and Google’s patented spatial tracking technology to detect your movements and translate them into actions for controlling Gmail.

To be honest, this wasn’t exactly a fresh idea. Opera Software had pulled off a similar trick a couple of years back with Face Gestures. In fact, noting the similarity between Face Gestures and Gmail Motion, Choose Opera joined in on the fun.

“For us, Google’s latest innovation was just an April Fools joke a few years back, so we are really impressed with them actually taking this to the market. We called our invention “Face Gestures”, but “Motion” is probably a better name for a product that is not only a joke”, says Jan Standal, the boss of Desktop Products here at Opera.
When Aleksander, our Face Gestures model, was asked about his opinion on Google Motion turning the kinesthetic technology into reality, his eyes welled with tears of joy and said: “I knew this day would come.”

Of course, both Opera and Google were just being being playful. However, the joke is now on Google. A few enterprising folks have turned Google’s April Fools’ joke into reality using Microsoft’s technology. In less than a day, the FAAST crew that brought us the WoW (World of Warcraft) keyboard emulator has cooked up a real-world Gmail Motion application for Kinect.

FAAST is calling their software SLOOW or Software Library Optimizing Obligatory Waving. Check out the video embedded below to see the salient features of Gmail Motion like opening an envelope to compose mail, and licking the stamp to send mail in action.