SiliconFilter

Googlelighting: The Google/Microsoft War of Words Continues, Now in Musical Form

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“Who knows what the future holds for Google Apps.” That’s the question Microsoft would like its customers to ask themselves before switching away from Microsoft Office and to Google’s cloud-based productivity suite. To underline its point, Microsoft just released a new video attack ad that accuses Google of running Google Apps “on the side” even though it has no business meddling in productivity software because it only has “twelve years of experience in ad sales.”

♫ “If Google Apps Meets is Grave, Your Business is Hosed” 

Microsoft, of course, is making fun of Google’s general development mode here by highlighting that Google Apps could potentially change at any point while a company is using it – and while unlikely, it could even potentially kill it off at any point. That, indeed, could be a major point of resistance for large companies that would like to switch to a cloud-based productivity suite like Apps. For them, a change in a widely used piece of software, after all, means retraining staff, for example. And just to highlight this point, the video then kicks into a music number that explains that Google really can’t be trusted to even keep really useful features around.

For the longest time, the rivalry between Google and Microsoft was fought through features and a few sly remarks here and there, but things have gotten rather public and heated between the two companies lately. For the most part, the aggression seems to come out of Redmond, though, with Google trying to defend itself against the accusations on its own blog and in the press.

Microsoft, for example has been taking out ads in national newspapers to highlight the changes Google made to its search engine and privacy policy lately and also happily jumped on the bandwagon of those accusing Google of trying to circumvent the privacy controls of Apple’s Safari and its own Internet Explorer.

Microsoft also launched an anti-Gmail video ad earlier this month:

google_ms_office_comparison

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9:48 am


Microsoft: Gone Google and Now You Regret it? We Have Alternatives

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When Google announced that it was going to integrate Google+ with its search results, its biggest competitor in the search market, Microsoft's Bing, remained quiet while social networks like Twitter raised the hue and cry. Now, however, it looks like Microsoft is about to pounce on this chance to raise awareness for its product with an ad it is running in a number of major newspapers this week. The main slogan of the ad is "putting people first."

Microsoft: Google Makes it Hard for People to Control Their Own Information

Microsoft's VP for corporate communications Frank X. Shaw argues that "the changes Google announced make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information." Microsoft, instead, takes a different approach according to Shaw: "We work to keep you safe and secure online, to give you control over your data, and to offer you the choice of saving your information on your hard drive, in the cloud, or on both."

The ad itself focuses strongly on how Google "cloaks" the changes to its service in language like "transparency," "simplicity," and "consistency," yet, in Microsoft's view, Google only cares about one thing: "making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say or stream while using one of their services."

After pointing this out, Microsoft then notes that if Google's thirst for data "rubs you the wrong way," Microsoft will be there for you with products like Bing, Hotmail, Office 365 and Internet Explorer.

This is definitely Microsoft's most aggressive public campaign against Google, a company that has been slowly invading Microsoft's turf in quite a few areas, including the highly lucrative office productivity business. In 2010, Microsoft ran an anti-Google campaign by trying to convince Google Apps users to switch (back) to Microsoft's products.

Just a few months ago, such a campaign could have easily backfired. Now, however, with the arguably unpopular changes that Google has made to its service and its incessant pushing of Google+ to the point where even the Daily Show's Jon Stewart is making fun of it, consumers may just be open to some alternatives to Google's products.

Here is the ad:

Microsoft ad gone google



8:54 am


Good Riddance: IE6 Usage Falls to Under 1% in U.S.

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According to the latest data from Net Applications, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6, the browser that overstayed its welcome for many years, is finally in its last throes. Usage of IE6, which officially launched 10 years ago, has now fallen to under 1% in the United States. While American users hung on to IE6 for longer than other nations like Austria, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway, it's good to see IE6 usage drop from 4.2% in December 2010 to 0.9% in 2011. As Microsoft itself notes today, this hopefully means that "more developers and IT Pros can consider IE6 a “low-priority” at this point and stop spending their time having to support such an outdated browser."

Just about nine month ago, Microsoft launched its own IE6 Countdown site to track the demise of IE6. Over the last year, the worldwide usage of IE6 has dropped 6 percentage point. It's worth noting, though, that around the world, 7.7% of all Internet users are still using this completely outdate (and insecure) browser.

The majority of these users come from China, where IE6 still has a whopping 25% market share. In virtually every other country, Microsoft's old browser now holds under 5% of the market.

Internet Explorer 6 Countdown | Death to IE 6 | IE6 Countdown



4:54 pm


The 10 Most Popular Stories on SiliconFilter this Year

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The first year for SiliconFilter is quickly coming to an end and I would like to say thanks to all of you who stuck with me throughout the last twelve months since I left ReadWriteWeb and decided to go solo.

As with any startup, there have been ups and downs, but to end the year on a high note, I thought I would compile a list of the most read stories on the site since the beginning of the year (and, if warranted, the stories behind them).

The list is ordered according to the number of pageviews each of these stories received.

10.) Kevin Rose at LeWeb: “I Made a Lot of Mistakes at Digg”

Talking to TWiT‘s Leo Laporte and Sarah Lane at LeWeb, Digg‘s founder Kevin Rose noted that he made lots of mistakes while he was still in charge of the popular social bookmarking site. According to Rose, “the first three years were insane.” Rose, however, acknowledged, that he learned a lot on the job by making plenty of mistakes, most importantly with regard to hiring and feature development.

(Background: This was my third year at LeWeb in Paris and this was the most popular story I wrote during the three-day conference.)

9.) Google’s JPEG Alternative WebP Gets Smarter, Takes on PNG

Last year, Google introduced a new image format for the web called WebP. WebP is meant to be a modern alternative to the popular but patent-encumbered JPEG standard. It produces significantly smaller files without sacrificing image quality. Today, Google announced some new features for WebP that may help bring wider adoption to the format, which is currently only natively supported by Opera and Google’s own Chrome browser. With today’s updates, WebP now offers a lossless mode as as well as support for transparency. Both of these features are currently the domain of the lossless PNG format which is currently the JPEG alternative of choice for designers who need either transparency or lossless encoding on their sites.

(Background: I was surprised how well this story did. It’s a relatively technical topic, but people are clearly interested in finding better image formats…)

8.) Think Quarterly: Google Launches Its Own Online Magazine (Updated)

We hear a lot about Google’s relationship with publishers, but this week the search giant also quietly launched its own online publication based in the UK. Think Quarterly, which calls itself a “a breathing space in a busy world” is, as the name implies, a quarterly online magazine. The design feels somewhat reminiscent of Wired, with a strong focus on infographics and large photos (but without ads). The articles come both from writers inside of Google and freelancers and the publication is designed and edited by creative agency The Church of London.

7.) The Internet Explorer IQ Hoax and the State of Tech Blogging

Last Friday, the tech blogosphere was enamored by a study that claimed that Internet Explorer users had a lower IQ than users of other browsers. The study by AptiQuant found that the average IE6 user only scored just over 80 on its IQ test – a test score that is, in terms of real-life accomplishments, generally associated with elementary school dropouts and unskilled workers. The study was a hoax.

(Background: I wrote quite a few posts about how many tech blogs were running stories about statistics that were clearly wrong this year. This one was the most popular, likely because the original hoax also played really well in the mainstream press. It probably also helped that the post provides a bit of background about how the tech blogosphere works.)

6.) Bing: What’s More Evil Than Satan Himself? 10^100

Not too long ago, hiybbprqag wasn’t much of a word, but as Google employee Andy Arnt noticed today, if you search Bing for it these days, you will find that it is an “orcish” word meaning “whiner.” Unless you’ve been closely following the search engine competition between Microsoft and Google, this probably doesn’t make much sense to you, but this little Easter egg is actually quite funny.

(Background: this was just a funny little story I wrote on a Friday afternoon after I read about these search results on Google+. People obviously love the Google/Microsoft rivalry in search. It did really well on Hacker News.)

5.) Why Twitter Should be Very Worried About Google+

When Google unexpectedly launched its new social network Google+ earlier this week, many pundits were skeptical about the company’s latest attempt to enter the social arena. Given Google’s dismal track record when it comes to these kinds of products, that kind of skepticism made sense, but after using it extensively for the last few days, I can’t help but think that it is the single biggest threat Twitter has had to face yet.

(Background: this was my original analysis of how the arrival Google+ would change the social networking  space. I think I still agree with most of what I wrote here, though it’s still a bit early in the game. By next year, we will likely have a better idea, but I think the recent changes to Twitter show that the company is taking this threat seriously.)

4.) Germany vs. Facebook: Like Button Declared Illegal, Sites Threatened With Fine

German websites based in the state of Schleswig-Holstein have until the end of September to remove Facebook‘s ‘like’ button or face a fine of up to 50,000 Euro.

Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy. Home owners, for example, can ask Google to pixelate their houses in Street View (maybe so that their garden gnomes can stay incognito?). Facebook’s facial recognition feature has also come under fire in recent weeks. The latest target of Germany’s privacy advocates is Facebook’s ‘like’ button („Gefällt mir,“ in German). Thilo Weichert, the head of the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, argues that Internet sites based in his state that use the ‘like’ button are illegally sending this data to Facebook, which in turn uses it to illegally create a profile of its users web habits.

3.) How a Fake MLK Jr. Quote Took the Internet by Storm

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” Chances are, you’ve seen this quote, attributed to Martin Luther King Jr., at least once on Twitter or Facebook. Perfectly capturing the feelings of many who felt somewhat conflicted about the images of Americans celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, this quote sadly doesn’t appear anywhere in the works of Martin Luther King Jr. – it did, however, quickly make the rounds on virtually every social media service, starting, it seems, on Facebook and quickly spreading to Twitter, Tumblr and other sites.

(Background: this story went viral on Facebook. Sadly, the social buttons on the site don’t reflect this, as I had to change my domain name early in the year and those counts simply don’t transfer. I don’t generally do a lot of “explainer”-style posts, but there is clearly some value in these.)

2.) Hacker Shows It Doesn’t Take $8 Million to Clone Qwiki – Just 321 Lines of HTML Will do the Trick

Qwiki is an app that creates pretty slideshows based on Wikipedia entries. The service won the top award at the last Techcrunch Disrupt conference and just received $8 million in new funding from a group led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Personally, I never understood why putting together a text-to-speech engine with a Ken Burns effect was disruptive. The VCs on the Disrupt jury thought different, though, and chose this pretty but ultimately utterly useless service over really disruptive ones like CloudFlare. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. Now, just to show how Qwiki didn’t merit the large new round of funding and how it doesn’t deserve the constant hype on tech blogs like Techcrunch, an intrepid hacker who goes by the name of “Banksy the Lucky Stiff” put together Fqwiki, a workable Qwiki clone in just 321 Lines of HTML.

(Background: When I first saw this project, I just knew I had to write about it. I never got the point of Qwiki and this clearly showed I wasn’t the only one.)

1.) Google Engineer: “Google+ is a Prime Example of Our Complete Failure to Understand Platforms”

Google engineer Steve Yegge mistakenly posted a long rant about working at Amazon and Google’s own issues with creating platforms on Google+. Apparently, he only wanted to share it internally with everybody at Google, but mistaken shared it publicly. For the most part, Yegge’s post focusses on the horrors of working at Amazon, a company that is notorious for its political infighting. The most interesting part to me, though, is Yegge’s blunt assessment of what he perceives to be Google’s inability to understand platforms and how this could endanger the company in the long run.

(Background: this was, by far, the most read post on this site in the last 12 months. I read it in the middle of the night, sometime around 3am, because I had just come back from Japan and was severely jetlagged. I think others probably also read Yegge’s post, but never got to the point where he talks about Google+ (it really just looks like a post about Amazon at the start). I was so bored and wide awake that I read all the way through it and immediately got up and wrote this story in 30 minutes after I got to the Google+ part.)

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5:32 pm


Google Docs Presentations Get Real-Time Collaboration, Transitions and Animations

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Just about a year and a half ago, most of Google’s productivity apps in the Google Docs suite received major overhauls that brought real-time collaboration and a number of other new features to Google’s online document, spreadsheet and drawing tools. One tools that was left out of that refresh at the time was Google’s online PowerPoint rival Google Docs presentations. Today, Google is changing this by bringing real-time collaboration, animations, rich tables and about 50 more new features to the presentations application.

While the apps feature set obviously can’t quite compete with Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote, making easy collaboration the focal point of the product gives it a competitive edge. As Google notes, “the best presentations are made together, collaborating with others to build a compelling story that captivates your audience.” Now, with Google Wave-like character-by-character real-time collaboration, that should get a bit easier for Google Docs users.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft, with its Office Web Apps is also now making online collaboration a focal point of its web initiatives and that the online PowerPoint app does offer a number of features (and great document fidelity) than Google.

image

Here are some of the other new features that Google highlights: [list]

  • Transitions: to move between slides with simple fades or spicier 3D effects
  • Animations: to add emphasis or to make your slides more playful
  • New themes: to create beautiful presentations with distinct visual styles
  • Drawings: to build new designs, layouts, and flowcharts within a presentation
  • Rich tables with merged cells and more options for adding style to your data

[/list]

Getting Started

Google notes that these new features were designed for modern browsers. Anything newer than Firefox 4, Safari 4 and Internet Explorer, as well as Google’s own Chrome browser should work fine, though.

To get started, head to the “Document settings” from your document list and check the box next to “Create new presentations using the latest version of the presentation editor.”

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3:52 pm


Hands-On With Windows 8 on the Desktop: A Confusing Jumble of UIs

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Today, Microsoft made the first developer previews of Windows 8 available to all who would like to try them out. I couldn’t help myself, of course, and immediately grabbed a copy once it was available to install it on my test PC. During its public keynote demos, Microsoft mostly focused on showing the Windows Phone-like Metro UI and tablet devices. How does this first public build of Windows 8 work on a traditional desktop (or laptop), though?

Two UIs and No Way to Isolate Them From Each Other

I have to admit that I’m about as torn about it as the two user interfaces Microsoft decided to bake into Windows 8. The Metro interface is slick, fast and surely works well on a tablet, but its full-screen apps feel like they are mostly a waste of space on a large desktop machine (I basically never use full-screen apps in OS X Lion for the same reason). The traditional Windows 7-like interface got some polish and is still as useful as always. Overall, though, as I feared, the two feel disconnected and there is currently no way to just use one or the other .

As Microsoft took away the traditional Start menu from the legacy desktop, a click on the new Start button now inevitably invokes the Metro-styled Start screen. Run an app there, though, and you won’t find it running on the legacy desktop – and vice versa. Thanks to this, for example, you may start Internet Explorer on the desktop and then find that the instance of IE running under the Metro UI doesn’t talk to the other one, so that none of your tabs are transferred between the two. Try to explain that to your grandparents when they get a PC with Windows 8 preloaded.

Obviously, this is still a developer preview and many things can still change . Chances are that, we will see plenty of Metro-enabled apps soon, so that switching between the two experiences won’t be necessary most of the time. I can see how Microsoft would restrict tablets to running tablet-style apps and give desktop users the option to switch between the two. This weird hybrid that forces you to use both systems on the desktop, though, just doesn’t really work in its current iteration.

More First Impressions

Here are a few more of my other first impressions:
[list]

  • the chromeless version of Internet Explorer 10 in the Metro interface is fast and capable (and doesn’t come with Flash pre-installed). Like so many other apps in the Metro interface, though, it feels like Microsoft put looks over usability – at least for desktop users – as you now have to at least click the right button once to do anything more advanced than clicking on a link. Oh – and you have to make sure you click it on the right spot on the screen, as you invoke the context menu otherwise. Hopefully, a next version will invoke other functions by just allowing you to move the mouse to the edges of the screen (maybe similar to Apple’s Mission Control/Expose).
  • the Metro interface looks slick – no doubt about it. Everything is fluid, well animated and just looks good. Nobody is going to accuse Microsoft of copying this interface from somebody else. On a traditional, non-touch enabled desktop, though, it feels more like a gimmick that gets in your way than a useful feature.
  • why did Microsoft kill the regular Start menu in the legacy interface? Starting an app now feels like work, as you have to dig through multiple layers of Metro UI – or use the keyboard – to find what you are looking for. Even if you really just want to use the desktop, the Start menu will inevitably bring you back to the Metro experience.
  • it feels like you really need to use the keyboard a lot more than ever before to get things done. Hopefully, Microsoft will, for example, make it easier to switch between apps that you started in the Metro UI. For now, using the good old ALT-TAB combination seems to be the only way to do so. The only way to quickly start an app from the legacy UI, too, is to just start typing after you bring up the Metro Start screen.
  • the much-maligned new Windows Explorer with the Ribbon UI isn’t actually that bad.
  • boot times are fast – less than 30 seconds on this machine after the BIOS had booted up (with an older Intel Core 2 Quad processor and an IDE hard drive).
  • installation was easy (same procedure as Windows 7), fast (under 30 minutes) and everything worked out of the box (graphics, sound, etc.)
  • how do you turn this PC off? Given that there is no Start menu anymore, there is also no way to turn the PC off from there. You currently have to CTRL-ALT-DELETE to find the power off switch…
  • as promised, legacy apps generally ran fine, though we found some issues here and there: Firefox had some problems displaying its user interface, for example. Other apps like Paint.net and the Windows Live Essentials installed and ran without problems, though. Shortcuts to newly installed apps now appear at the right end of the start menu now, by the way.
  • the system was very stable. No crashes yet, but I didn’t try to install any games or other apps yet that would really tax the system. Your mileage may vary depending on the components and the drivers available for them.

[/list]

Verdict: Mixed Emotions

Overall, then, I come away with very mixed feelings after a first evening with Windows 8: it looks like Microsoft is really trying to shake things up, but I’m not convinced that the Metro UI is a good interface for desktop users and the Windows 8 team should find a way to just hide it from desktop users. I’m all for innovation, but in its current form, forcing users to go into the tablet interface just puts unnecessary roadblocks into the users path. I just want to start an app – not see a pretty little block with the current weather.

Microsoft still has plenty of time to fix these issues, so I’m not too worried yet, but for now I don’t see any good reasons why users will a regular desktop or laptop should update to Windows 8 (and it pains me to say that, as I ran Windows 7 exclusively once the first builds were publically available).

Image credit: Arnold Kim



6:15 am


The Internet Explorer IQ Hoax and the State of Tech Blogging

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Last Friday, the tech blogosphere was enamored by a study that claimed that Internet Explorer users had a lower IQ than users of other browsers. The study by AptiQuant found that the average IE6 user only scored just over 80 on its IQ test – a test score that is, in terms of real-life accomplishments, generally associated with elementary school dropouts and unskilled workers. The study was a hoax.

The Hoax

A hoax like this one obviously capitalizes on the inherent anxiety we all feel about our own intelligence and the prejudice that nobody in their right mind would ever use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It also allowed those who use fringe browsers like Opera and Camino to feel especially smug, as the average score of their cohort was supposedly around 125 (that’s close to the level of most neurosurgeons). Safari users (who are most likely to use Apple products) were also supposedly among the most “intelligent.”

Overall then, this was a well thought out hoax, though there were tons of red flags, as Wired’s Tim Carmody points out. The huge difference in scores, for example, doesn’t really make sense and the average Opera user – while making a fine browser choice – isn’t likely to be a genius either. A quick Google search would have shown that AptiQuant never really existed before it released this report (even though it claimed to have data from 2006). The data itself also isn’t exactly trustworthy, as it relies on online IQ test – likely delivered through spammy pop-ups – and carries little to no scientific relevance.

Why?

If this was so obviously a hoax then, why did virtually everybody in the tech world run with this story?

Here are a few reasons why I think this story was able to get so much play:

Pressure to be fast, write more stories and get more pageviews: This “report” was published on a Friday and while most people associate that day with fun, fun, fun, fun, writers still have to pump out a few stories and news is generally slow on that day (and that Friday was indeed a very slow news day). (That pressure, by the way, is even stronger for writers who are paid by story.)

Stories about statistics can be written quickly and get pageviews: Indeed, the constant pressure to write more stories that get as many pageviews as possible is one of the reasons why we writers love stories about statistics: they are easy and fast to write, generally come with some pretty graphics we can use and do well in terms of pageviews. I’ve written my fair share of those and there is a legitimate role for those stories that boil down lots of data into an interesting story. What often happens, though, is that writers will just believe anything they see in these studies and run with it, without ever questioning the study’s methodology.

Indeed, there is very little reward for those writers who spend a lot of time going through the methodology section of a report and then find that their time was wasted because the report turned out to be untrustworthy. Writing a story about how IE users are dumb makes for a good headline and lots of pageviewsafter all. A subtler story just wouldn’t get the kind of pageviews and rewards that “IE users are dumb as a bag of hammers” can get.

Microsoft sucks, doesn’t it?: There is also a general undercurrent of anti-Microsoft sentiment on most blogs that makes it even easier for a story like this to get through without even an ounce of fact checking (something most blogs don’t do anyway: you publish first, edit later and then update the story as necessary). If the story had claimed that Safari users were significantly dumber than Chrome users, chances are we would have seen a bit more pushback and less glee.

It’s worth noting that quite a few of the companies that create these studies also face a lot of pressure to get publicity and acquire new customers. Why they often risk their credibility by putting out statistics that are obviously wrong is beyond me, though. It’s up to the press, though, to examine this data and decide whether to trust it or not.



4:04 pm


Freedom from IE6: Google Launches Non-Admin Version of Chrome Frame

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Earlier this year, Google announced that it would soon allow Internet Explorer users to install Chrome Frame – a product that brings the Chrome’s fast rendering engine’s to Microsoft’s legacy browsers – even when their administrators had locked down their systems. Today, Google fulfilled this promise and potential Chrome Frame users can now install Chrome Frame even if they don’t have administrator rights. For now, this non-administrative version is only available in the developer channel, but Google says that it will soon be available in the beta and stable channels as well.
(more…)



4:37 pm


Google to IE9 Users: "Come here often? Make Google your homepage"

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Google is the default search engine on virtually every browser – with one exception: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which obviously users Microsoft’s own Bing. Now that Microsoft is rolling out version 9 of Internet Explorer to most of its users, Google is actively courting these users with a large blue bar on its homepage: “Come here often? Make Google your homepage.” The possible answers: “Sure” and “No thanks.” If you decline, Google will then show you an ad for Chrome every time you go to google.com.

Image credit: Google Operating System

google_chrome_ad_in_ie9

via: Google Operating System



1:55 pm


WebGL 1.0: Google, Opera and Mozilla Team Up to Bring Hardware-Accelerated 3D Graphics to Your Browser

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WebGL – a standard for running 3D graphics in the browser – has been around for a while, but the Khronos Group, which has been chaperoning the process of finalizing the WebGL standard, just announced the final version of the new standard. WebGL brings hardware-accelerated 3D graphics to browsers without the need for plugins and should enable developers and designers to create rich 3D-enabled experiences in the browser. The WebGL working group includes industry heavy-weights like Google, Mozilla, Opera, Apple, Qualcomm, AMD and Nvidia.

Both hardware manufacturers like Qualcomm, which will integrate WebGL into its Snapdragon platform and browser vendors are embracing WebGL. According to Opera’s lead graphics developer Tim Johansson, “WebGL will finally free web developers from the confines of 2D without the need for a plug-in. Once WebGL becomes pervasive, we can look forward to a new era in creativity on the Web. Opera is excited to be part of the WebGL initiative. We intend to support WebGL in our browsers, whether on computers, mobile phones or TVs.”

A WebGL demo.

 

 

As WebGL leverages the OpenGL standard that is already supported by the vast majority of graphics cards, developers don’t have to worry about hardware compatibility. Most browser vendors are also on board. WebGL is already supported by nightly versions of Apple’s WebKit and Firefox, as well as in Google Chrome and in a preview version of Opera which the company announced just a few days ago. To see how well your browser supports this standard, just head over to the Khronos Group’s demo repository. Google’s impressive Body Browser, too, uses the WebGL standard.

Where is Microsoft?

The one company that is missing here, though, is Microsoft, which is just about to release the next version of its Internet Explorer. As of now, Internet Explorer 9 is not scheduled to include WebGL support.



1:18 pm


Internet Explorer 9 RC: 2 Million Downloads in 6 Days

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Even though some argue that Internet Explorer 9 is about two years late, there is clearly still a lot of interest in Microsoft’s newest browser. Since its launch on February 10, the release candidate of IE9 has been downloaded 2 million times. This number only includes user-initiated downloads, as Microsoft has not pushed automatic updates to current IE9 beta users.

It’s worth noting that the IE9 beta saw 2 million downloads within the first two days after it launched. The difference here, though, is that the first beta also marked the first time Microsoft showed the IE9 interface to the public. Many users likely just downloaded it just to see what the new interface looked like. The beta release was also heavily covered in mainstream media outlets.

One of the reasons to be interested in the IE9 release candidate is the fact that this the first version of IE9 to include Microsoft’s interpretation of a “do not track” feature. This allows Internet users to tell online advertisers and search engines that they want to opt out of behavioral tracking. Mozilla and Google have also launched their own versions of this feature in the last few weeks. For the time being, though, none of these systems are compatible with each other.



10:49 am


Hiybbprqag: Google Claims Bing is Copying its Search Results (Updated)

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There is a major scandal brewing in the tech world this morning that has the potential to greatly tarnish the reputation of Bing, Microsoft’s Google-challenger. According to Search Engine Land‘s Danny Sullivan, Google thinks that Microsoft is copying some of its search results. That’s about as serious an allegation as there can be in the search engine world. In an early statement, Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of Bing does not deny this and told Sullivan that Bing uses “multiple signals and approaches” when thinking about ranking.

So what happened? According to Search Engine Land, Google noticed that some of Bing’s search results looked more and more like Google’s over the last few months. In order to test this theory, Google set up a sting operation. Starting in mid-December, Google engineers used laptops that ran Internet Explorer and with both the Suggested Sites and Bing Toolbar turned on to search for around 100 terms that were either made up or barely ever searched for. Among these terms were nonsense words like hiybbprqagindoswiftjobinproduction and mbzrxpgjys. Most of these returned either none or very poor results on Google and none on Bing.

[notification type=”alert”] Update: Microsoft just published an official reaction on the Bing blog, acknowledging that it uses” the clickstream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users.”

Harry Shum, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Bing, argues that Google created this controversy as a publicity stunt: “What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment.”

[/notification]

Hiybbprqag bing 1

Google then set up fake search results for these terms that were accessible over the Internet but, given the nature of the search terms, would never be seen by real users. After just two weeks of running this experiment on these laptops with the Bing toolbar and IE’s Suggested Sites feature turned on, Bing started to return the exact same results for the terms used in Google’s honeypot sting. It’s important to note that this only happened for 7 out of the 100 terms Google experimented with.

Using IE, Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar to Copy Google Search Results

How did this happen? The likely explanation for this is that Bing uses the signals it gets from users who use the Bing Toolbar and Suggested Sites features to enhance its own search results. So whenever somebody who has these tools installed searches on Google, Bing gets this information. As Sullivan points out, this is perfectly within the realm of Microsoft’s privacy policy, but most users are likely not aware of it. Basically, Bing looks at what Internet Explorer users are clicking on when they use Google and then molds its own search results accordingly.

While that’s oddly clever and likely benefits Bing’s users, it also doesn’t feel right at all. The evidence, as presented by Google, is clearly damning for Bing. We expect to hear more from Microsoft about this over the course of the day and will update this post as warranted.



9:42 am