HoloLens is the most exciting project to come out of Microsoft in years


I’m a jaded tech blogger, but Microsoft’s HoloLens project is without doubt the most exciting project to come out of Redmond in years. After years of talk about augmented reality, this may be the first project that actually lives up to the hype.

The first hands-on posts from those we were in Redmond talk about it as an almost magical experience (but then they only got to test it in a very controlled environment). It’s a bit of Google Glass and Occulus Rift — yet at the same time it’s nothing like it because they don’t do anything like what Microsoft showed today.

This being Microsoft, things could still go horribly wrong. We won’t know until the first units hit the market. But it’s nice to see some real innovation from Microsoft again.

4:59 pm

The new Yandex browser sure looks interesting


The Yandex team launched an alpha version of its new browser today and there are plenty of interesting design ideas here. Overall, it feels like a bit of a hybrid between Safari and Opera Coast. I rather like the tabs at the bottom of the screen, but I’m not sure I could use a browser without a bookmark bar as my default choice.

Still, it’s not every day you see a new browser design launch and now that Firefox and Chrome almost look the same, it’s a nice change of pace to see somebody try something different.

More on TechCrunch.

12:32 pm

Google Releases Version 1 of its Go Programming Language


Go, the increasingly popular programming language Google first announced in late 2009, is now available in its first stable version. This release also marks the first time that a native support for Go is available to Windows users. Dart, another language developed by Google’s engineers, is mostly meant for web applications, while the developers of Go aimed to create a modern general-purpose language for networked and multicore computing. While Go took quite a bit of inspiration from C, it also includes ideas from other languages like Pascal, Newsqueak and Limbo.

As the engineers behind the project note, the reason to release a stable version now is to give developers a stable target for their development efforts. Until now, the language still changed regularly and some of these changes likely broke existing code. Now, Google’s engineers will ensure that – with a few exceptions – every further addition to Go won’t break existing programs. “Code that compiles in Go 1 should, with few exceptions, continue to compile and run throughout the lifetime of that version, even as we issue updates and bug fixes such as Go version 1.1, 1.2, and so on.”

With this release, Google also updated its Google App Engine SDK to support this new version (App Engine is Google’s cloud computing platform for developers). To see how serious Google is about Go, you just have to look at the fact that besides Go, App Engine only supports Java and Python right now.

9:30 am

Google Moves Its Hangouts API Out Of Preview


Google has been very conservative about releasing APIs for Google+ and may not even release a full read/write API for its social network before the end of this year. The one API the Google+ team has put its weight behind, though, is the Hangouts API, which gives developers access to Google+’s video chat features. Today, the company announced that it is taking this API out of preview. This means developers can now launch and share their hangout apps with the Google+ community. To launch this feature, Google has partnered with a number of developers, including Aces HangoutCacooScoot & DoodleSlideshare and Clubhouse Challenge by Bravo.

A simple click on the Google+ hangout button on these sites opens up a standard Google Hangout with the respective application running inside the same window. You can now also find these apps in the new “Apps” pane in Google+ Hangouts.

Google is rolling this feature out right now, so it may take a bit before it becomes available in your account.

Google, which has been struggling to get users to adopt Google+ as a social network, has long been pushing these video chats as a differentiating feature for its service. It’s not clear how much adoption this feature has seen on Google+ itself (even as video chats become more common, most people still feel very self-conscious on camera, after all). By effectively decoupling hangouts from the social networking aspects of Google+, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of productivity apps and games will adopt this feature now. Google, as far as I can see, isn’t charging developers for this tool and adding video chat tends to be a costly feature for developers.

8:57 am

BrowserQuest: Mozilla Launches Massively Multiplayer HTML5 Game Experiment to Showcase Modern Web Technologies


Mozilla, in cooperation with French developer Little Workshop, launched a new MMORPG called BrowserQuest today to demonstrate what developers can do with HTML5, WebSocket, Canvas and other advanced web technologies, including Node.js. The game, which is actually quite fun in its own right, should work with virtually every modern desktop browser (except for Internet Explorer), as well as Safari on iOS and Firefox on Android. The mobile version is, in Mozilla’s words, “more experimental,” but should be seen as “an early glimpse of what kind of games will be coming to the mobile Web in the future.”

The one technology Mozilla really wants to showcase here – besides the multiplatform nature of using web technologies over native apps – is WebSocket. With this, developers can set up a system to communicate back and forth between the browser and the server. In the case of BrowserQuest, this means that the server can keep your actions and those by your fellow players in sync without much effort.

Here is the total list of web technologies BrowserQuest uses:

  • HTML5 Canvas, which powers the 2D tile-based graphics engine.
  • Web workers, allowing to initialize the large world map without slowing down the homepage UI.
  • localStorage, in which the progress of your character is continually saved.
  • CSS3 Media Queries, so that the game can resize itself and adapt to many devices.
  • HTML5 audio, so you can hear that rat or skeleton die!

8:10 am

Google Launches Street View-Based Travel Guide to Japan


Just in time for the cherry blossom season in Japan, Google today launched what it calls a “new visual travel guide” for the country. This new interactive guide, which Google created in cooperation with the Japan Tourism Agency and the Japan National Tourism Organization, is based on Google’s street view images and allows you to visit eight distinct areas in Japan (though it’s worth nothing that four of these are actually in Tokyo, including the city’s famous fish market and the Ahikabara and Ginza shopping districts).

The guide, it is worth noting, also features some indoor imagery, as well as the ability to virtually stroll through some of the country’s famous gardens. Besides the obvious Street View feature and sightseeing suggestions, the guide also features restaurant, hotel and shopping recommendations – all of which feature indoor Street View images and a bit of information about the establishment.

According to Google, the guide features 339 locations – including “26 great cherry blossom viewing spots.” The guide is available in English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

It will be interesting to see if Google plans to expand this program to cover other countries as well. While there are a number of third-party sites that use Street View to augment their travel guides, this guide for Japan is actually Google’s first foray into using this feature for a home-grown travel guide. The fact that the company calls this an “edition,” though, provides a hint that more of these guides may be in the works.

9:31 am

Ford to Open Palo Alto Research Lab this Summer


Car manufacturers are slowly but surely morphing into technology companies and it's not just upstart manufacturers like Tesla who are trying to piggyback on Silicon Valley's deep pool of engineering and academic talent. General Motors, for example, already has offices in Palo Alto and today, Ford announced that it has also chosen Palo Alto for its new Silicon Valley lab. The company already has research labs in Dearborn, MI; Aachen, Germany; Nanjing, China and Tel Aviv, Israel. The lab will be lead by TJ Giuli, a Ford research engineer and Stanford-alumni who has been working on the forefront of the company's tech efforts for the last few years. 

The company hopes that the new lab will "serve as a hub for independent technology projects and identification of new research investments and partners located along the West Coast." It also hopes to develop deeper partnerships with local tech firms and universities. Ford is, for example, already a member of Stanford's Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) affiliate program.

Ford will hire Silicon Valley talent for its new offices, but also plans to rotate-in engineers from its other locations to work on new in-car technologies and ideas.

The company first announced its plans to open a Silicon Valley office earlier this year, but at that time, it hadn't chosen a location yet. According to the city of Palo Altos' economic development manager Thomas Fehrenbach, the city itself reached out to Ford when it heard about Ford's plans, though chances are that it was already pretty high on Ford's list of possible locations.


10:08 am

77% of U.S. Teens Now Own Cell Phones, Most Send at Least 60 Text Messages per Day


About three quarters of U.S. teens (77%) now have a cell phone. This number is, according to a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, up slightly from September 2009 (75%). Looking back to 2004, though, it’s clear how this number has increased dramatically over the last few years. In late 2004, only 45% of teens had cell phones. The interesting trend here, though, is that 80% of older teens (14-17) now own mobile phones (and 31% of these older teens own smartphones), but that the number of younger teens with cell phones has actually dropped a bit (57% vs. 66%).

Unsurprisingly, teens from households with a higher income are more likely to own cell phones and while 83% of suburban kids now own a mobile phone, only 69% of kids in urban areas and 73% in rural areas own one.

The Pew study did not find a statistically relevant difference between boys and girls when it comes to cell phone ownership, but when it comes to texting, girls are still far heavier users than boys. The median number of texts per girl in this study was closer to 90, while boys only send about 50 (the mean numbers, it’s worth noting, are far higher and also far closer to each other: 165 for girls and 168 for boys).  Unsurprisingly, those teens who send the most texts are also more likely to own a smartphone.

As for old-fashioned voice calls, teens – just like the rest of us – are slowly making fewer calls and most teens report that they mostly use text messages to socialize with the people in their lives:

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10:23 am

ReadWriteWeb’s COO Sean Ammirati Leaves to Start Birchmere Labs Seed & Studio Fund


ReadWriteWeb, which was acquired by SAY Media late last year, just saw its first departure after the acquisition. The site's COO Sean Ammirati today announced that he is leaving RWW to start Birchmere Labs, which he describes and a early stage seed and studio fund. Ammirati will become the lead partner of this new venture. The fund, which itself is funded by Birchmere Ventures, will focus on community driven commerce startups, including web and mobile startups that "have strong network effects while still delivering value from the first user with transaction-based revenue models."

I've had the joy of working with Ammirati at ReadWriteWeb for almost two years. He is one of the smarter and more driven people in our business, so losing him will be a loss for SAY and RWW. At the same time, though, it's clear that Sean's entrepreneurial experience (mSpoke, a company he co-founded, was the first startup to be acquired by LinkedIn) will serve him well in his new position. It's also probably not a stretch to think that his role at RWW changed quite a bit after the acquisition.

As he told me yesterday, the new fund wants to take a very agile approach – somewhat like Kevin Rose's Milk. The fund will be both run as a lab (and hence develop its own products and startups) but also make investments in early stage companies.

For ReadWriteWeb, this is the first departure since the acquisition, though it is worth noting that the site had a very high staff turnover in the year leading up to the acquisition, with a lot of the key members leaving the site or, like RWW's former co-editor Marshall Kirkpatrick, starting their own ventures while still writing for the site now and then.

6:00 am

What to Expect from Firefox in 2012: SPDY, Quiet Updates, Better Web Apps


Last year, Mozilla managed to get Firefox back on track. While the long delay of Firefox 4 gave competitors like the up-and-coming Google Chrome a chance to gain quite a bit of market share, Mozilla adapted to the changing environment and switched to a Chrome-like rapid-release schedule that is focused on releasing a new version every six weeks. Given these short release cycles, it's good to keep the larger picture in view sometimes and, thankfully, Mozilla today provided us with a nice overview of what we can expect from Firefox for the rest of the year.

The organization has discussed most of these plans before, but it's good to take another look at what's in store for the popular browser.

A SPDYer Browser

Among the highlights Firefox's users can look forward to is default support for Google's SPDY protocol that speeds up the communication between your browser and web servers. In the current version (11), SPDY is not enable by default, but you can turn it on by browsing to about:config and doing a search for spdy.enabled.

In addition, Mozilla also plans to turn on HTTP pipelining by default. This allows the browser to download different elements of a site in parallel, which should speed things up, especially for sites that don't yet support the SPDY protocol.

Silent Updates

Mozilla also plans to bring silent updates to Firefox. This means, you will never have to see another update dialog again. Instead, Firefox will just update itself automatically, just like Chrome currently does. The development team plans to launch this feature in version 13.

Better Web Apps

As for web apps, Mozilla wants to integrate them more deeply into the browser. This means support for Mozilla's online app store, which is scheduled to launch later this year, but also a lot of work on the backend, including support for Mozilla's identity solution, an install process for web apps and the ability for apps to run in the background.

This, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg. You can find a full list of the features Mozilla has planned for this year here.

9:34 am

Google Adds 11 More Deal Sites to its Google Offers Network


Google has been quietly expanding its network of parters for its daily deals service Google Offers since it first launched last year. Today, the company is announcing that 11 new partners are joining its platform. These new partners are 8Moms, APDailyDeals, AT&T Interactive,,, DoubleTakeDeals, Half Off Depot, Morgan’s Deals, Savored, Signpost and Urban Dealight. In addition, Google also announced that it is bringing it "full slate" of partners to Austin, Houston, Philadelphia and Miami today.

Out of the 40 cities where Google offers is currently available, customers in 23 of these now get offers from the company's partners in addition to Google's own offers.

In its announcement, Google explicitly acknowledges that in order to bring its users the best deals, it needs to work with partners. At the same time, though, it's also clear that these smaller niche sites need bigger partners to have any chance in succeeding in a market that is dominated by Groupon and LivingSocial.

Maybe the most interesting of these new partners is Signpost (which, it is worth noting, is partly funded by Google Ventures). The company sets up online stores for small businesses and also works with its customers to set up daily deal campaigns.

8:55 am

Spotify Launched in Germany Without Key Licensing Deal


Spotify, the popular streaming music service, launched in Germany today. The company had been planning this launch for a while and had already been operating a German-language version in Austria since last year. Quite a few pundits assumed that the delay was due to rights negotiations with the German royalty collection agency GEMA. This organization is quite notorious for charging relatively high rates for music streaming, which was the main reason Grooveshark closed its German site earlier this year. The reality is a bit different, though: Spotify still hasn't signed a licensing deal with GEMA.

Talking to German public radio, Spotify acknowledged that the company is still negotiating with GEMA. As of now, the two haven't been able to reach an agreement, though the negotiations, which Spotify describes as "intense," continue.

GEMA, it is worth noting, has been negotiating with Google to set streaming rates for YouTube for years now. It's not unthinkable that its discussions with Spotify could also take quite a while. Just last year, Sony Music CEO Edgar Berger argued that "some members of GEMA's supervisory board have not yet arrived in the digital era."

11:17 am

Not Delayed: Firefox 11 Still Coming Later Today


Yesterday, Mozilla announced that it would delay today's planned launch of Firefox 11 for a few days in order to scrutinize a potential security issue and to avoid issues with Microsoft's Patch Tuesday updates today.

Now, however, Mozilla has canceled this delay and announced that Firefox 11 is still on track for today's release. The security vulnerability, it turns out, was already known and patched. In order to avoid the conflict with Patch Tuesday, though, this release will only be available as a manual update today. Once the Firefox team is sure that there are no issues with Microsoft's latest patches, it will push automatic updates to all users.

Since switching to its rapid-release schedule, Mozilla never missed a scheduled release date for Firefox.

What's New in Firefox 11

Once Firefox 11 is available, this is what you can expect from the update:

What’s New

  • NEW
    Firefox can now migrate your bookmarks, history, and cookies from Google Chrome
  • NEW
    With Sync enabled, add-ons can now be synchronized across your computers
  • NEW
    The CSS text-size-adjust property is now supported
    Redesigned media controls for HTML5 video
  • HTML5
    The outerHTML property is now supported on HTML elements
  • HTML5
    View source syntax highlighting now uses the HTML5 parser (see bug 482921)
    The Style Editor for CSS editing is now available to web developers
    Web developers can now visualize a web page in 3D using the Page Inspector 3D View
    SPDY protocol support for faster page loads is now testable
    XMLHttpRequest now supports HTML parsing
    Files can now be stored in IndexedDB (see bug 661877)
    Websockets has now been unprefixed
    Firefox notifications may not work properly with Growl 1.3 or later (691662)





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10:37 am