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.
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.
Now that Mozilla has fully embraced its rapid-release cycle, an update from version 9 to 10 of its popular Firefox browser isn't really an event anymore. Nevertheless, version 10, which launched today, brings a number of welcome new features with it, as well as the usual bug fixes and performance enhancements.
Virtually all of the changes in this new version are under the hood. The interface has not really changed – with one small exception. The forward button is now hidden until you actually navigate back from a page. This is definitely just a small change, though, and we will still have to wait until Firefox 12 to see the new "new tab" page appear in the Firefox release channel release.
If you are already a Firefox user, your browser will soon prompt you to update automatically. Version 10 is now also available for download here.
Fewer Add-On Compatibility Issues
What has changed, though, is the way Firefox 10 handles add-on compatibility issues when you upgrade the browser. Until now, users had to hope that the developers of their favorite add-ons ensured that they were compatible and marked as such. Now that Mozilla is releasing a new version of its browser every six weeks, though, that was becoming an issue for developers and users.
Mozilla's own add-on repository can automatically check the compatibility of most of the add-ons hosted on its servers. The problem, however, is that about 75% of add-ons are not hosted by Mozilla. Firefox 10 now assumes that most of these are actually compatible when you upgrade your browser. Thanks to this, users won't have to hope that a plugin's developer will constantly ensure that a plugin is up to date.
You can find more details about how Mozilla does this here.
Also New: Full Screen API
In addition, the new version also now offers developers a full screen API that allows them to build web apps that can run full screen. Game developers will likely be among the first to embrace this ability, though Mozilla also expects online video experiences and presentation software to make extensive use of this feature as well.
The way we publish and read text in our browsers today is not that different from the way Egyptians used scrolls over 3,000 years ago. In the real world, though, the scroll gave way to the codex a long time ago, but on the web, we’re still mostly wedded to the idea of scrolling through text. Opera, the developers of the popular desktop and mobile browser of the same name, just released Opera Reader, a prototype of a concept they call “native pages,” which is meant to bring the ideas of a more book-like publishing layout back to the web. The result, which developers can achieve with just a few lines of codes, looks more like the New York Times Skimmer interface than a regular website.
The basic concept behind native pages/Opera Reader is to make it easy to split pages into paged media by using what Opera calls “an innovative new set of CSS constructs.” Opera things that this idea “has the power to dramatically improve the way in which web content is consumers, by presenting it in a much more compelling fashion.”
Instead of scrolling through pages, using a few basic CSS constructs will turn your scrolling articles into more codex-like sites with columns and multiple pages. The idea here is to make these texts easier to read and to make better use of the widescreen monitors that now adorn most of our desks. Browsers that don’t support this technology will just continue to display the same pages as before. Those that do support it, however, will be able to flexibly adjust the layout of the pages multi-column layout on the fly and have users use touch gestures and/or keyboard commands to flip pages.
Whether you are using a tablet, phone, desktop or a laptop to read this right now, chances are you are using a widescreen display. On a desktop and laptop, these are great for watching video, but leave a lot of unused space if you are just reading text online. At least on a tablet or phone, you can just tilt the device and use your screen more efficiently. If successful, the ideas behind Opera Reader could make it easier for publishers to make their texts available for mice-less devices like tablets and on the desktop, where readers would benefit from a better layout of the texts they read.
An Idea Worth Pursuing?
It’s worth noting, though, that online publishing as we know it today is driven by pageviews and the ad sales that come with them. It’s unlikely that existing publishers would quickly flock to this idea, but as a proof of concept, Opera Reader does hold some interesting promises.
As a reader, though, I have to say that I really like sites like the NYTimes Skimmer that let me focus on the text and use a multi-column layout to let me read more text before I have to scroll again.
I can see a few reasons why this idea wouldn’t work, though, as well. On tablets, for example, the scroll metaphor actually works quite well and actually feels more efficient than paging through articles. I also haven’t heard too many people complain about having to scroll through articles and for many, I would guess scrolling now feels more natural than leaving through a virtual book-like environment.
Unlike Opera then, I don’t think this idea of a codex-like page works for every site and every article, but I can imagine sites that focus on long-form content move towards this or a similar technology. I’m not sure it has to be build into the browser, but I think Opera is right to reopen the discussion about how we display our written content on the web.
How to Use it Today
The only way to see Opera Reader in action right now is by installing a special alpha version of Opera 12 (available for Mac, Windows and Linux). Once installed, you can find a number of demos of the native page technology here.
Mozilla today officially launched Firefox 6, the latest stable version of its popular browser. Since its switch to a more frequent release schedule, Mozilla has already pushed out a number of releases, so version numbers themselves are becoming significantly less useful at this point and most of the updates are rather small. Indeed, users who expect this to be a major update will be sorely disappointed as Mozilla only made minor tweaks to the user interface and didn’t add any major new features in this new version besides a new permissions tool for site-specific permissions.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plethora of bug fixes and new features for developers in Firefox 6. Regular users, however, won’t notice much of a difference if they were already using Firefox 5 before. Most of your addons should also continue to work just fine. While earlier updates often broke many of the most popular updates, this has become less and less of an issue over the last few releases.
Here is Mozilla’s official list of what’s new in Firefox 6: [list]
The address bar now highlights the domain of the website you’re visiting
In addition to the desktop version, Mozilla also launched a new version of Firefox for Android. This new version features a slightly updated user interface and was tweaked to work better on tablets.
Get New Versions Earlier with the Beta and Aurora Channel
Intrepid users who want an early look at new Firefox builds can also switch to the Beta and Aurora channel (or even the Nightly channel if you feel really adventurous). This way, you can get new features even earlier and help Mozilla by reporting issues with these test builds.
A few months ago, Mozilla started a project called MemShrink that aims to make Firefox a leaner browser that uses less memory. Now, it looks like Firefox 7, which is scheduled to arrive as a beta version later this month, will be the first version of the popular browser to see the benefits of this technology.
With the arrival of Google’s Chrome, Firefox – which was long the forerunner in terms of browser innovation – suddenly looked rather bloated. Indeed, according to Nethercote, Firefox 4 added so many new features and technologies that its memory usage increased and slowed the browser down.
It’s About More Than Just Cutting Down on Bloat
It’s important to note that this is not just about reducing memory usage, though. There are a number of other benefits to this project as well, as using less memory also means fewer crashes and speed enhancements. This, says Nethercote, is especially important for users who are running Firefox on 32bit Windows systems, where applications are “typically restricted to only 2GB of virtual memory.”
Now that Mozilla has switched to a more Chrome-like rapid-release cycle for Firefox, the benefits of projects like MemShrink can make it into the final product a lot faster. If you can’t wait until the release of Firefox 7 – or if you feel especially adventurous – you can always run the Aurora and Beta channels, of course, and get an early look at the next version of Firefox.
Mozilla today announcedBoot to Gecko, a very ambitious project that aims to create a “complete, standalone operating system for the open web.” This project’s goal is to develop what seems like a ChromeOS-like operating system where all the apps are based on HTML5. This system will use Google’s own open-source Android platform as its basis. The focus, Mozilla’s VP or Technical Strategy Mike Shaver noted in a Google discussion forum today, will be on the “handheld/tablet/mobile experience.” According to Shaver, we may see some PC-based prototypes, but Mozilla is more interested in the “device space.”
Android: Just for Booting and Drivers
The Android connection here is that Boot to Gecko will use the Android kernel and drivers to boot the device. Indeed, Shaver also notes that Mozilla aims to “use as little of Android as possible.” Given that quite a few device makers are already producing drivers for Android (and not necessarily for straightforward Linux implementations), using the lower-level Android layers makes sense for Mozilla.
Break “The Stranglehold of Proprietary Technologies Over the Mobile Device World”
The ultimate ideological goal behind the project, says Mozilla’s Andreas Gal, is to break “the stranglehold of proprietary technologies over the mobile device world.” That does seem like a mobile idea indeed.
Here are some of the areas where Mozilla thinks extra work for getting this project going is still needed: [list]
New web APIs: build prototype APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to content (Telephony, SMS, Camera, USB, Bluetooth, NFC, etc.)
Privilege model: making sure that these new capabilities are safely exposed to pages and applications
Booting: prototype a low-level substrate for an Android-compatible device;
Applications: choose and port or build apps to prove out and prioritize the power of the system.[/list]
It will be interesting to see how developers will react to such a system, a ChromeOS-like “GeckoOS” that is actually popular could mean that developers could focus their energy on building just one application in HTML5 that would run on a large number of devices. As usual, though, this is an uphill fight, as device manufacturers would have to support this system to bring it into mainstream users’ hands.
Mozilla, as a non-profit organization, does have the ability to give these kinds of ideas a try to learn from them, whether they succeed or not.
Opera has long been the underdog in the desktop browser wars, but it’s easy to forget that a lot of the browser design and features we take for granted today were actually pioneered by the Norwegian company. Opera 11.50, which launched for Windows, OS X, FreeBSD and Linux today, offers a few interesting new features, as well as a more streamlined design that make it worth another look. Among the new features are password synchronization with other Opera browsers and extensions for the browser’s Speed Dial feature. Opera’s new core rendering engine is now also noticeably faster and developers will find some new tools for HTML5 development in this new version.
While Opera highlights the new sleeker look of the browser, the differences between this new version and the last are actually relatively subtle. There can be no doubt, though, that Opera 11.50 looks more streamlined and actually feels significantly faster than the last version.
The most interesting new feature, though, is definitely the new extension architecture for Opera’s Speed Dial. If you’re not familiar with Speed Dial, just imagine Chrome’s new tab button on steroids. Speed Dial is now configured to automatically resize its previews to accommodate as many shortcuts as you want and developers can actually write little widgets that can live in these previews. Among today’s launch partners are Read It Later, Webdoc, music service The Hype Machine and StockTwits.
Opera today released the latest version of its Opera Mini mobile browser for iOS. This is Opera’s debut on the iPad. On the iPhone, this new version marks a huge step up from Opera 5, which was virtually unusable due to they way it displayed the rendered text. This new version has none of these issues and feels incredibly fast and smooth. On the iPad, however, it’s generally unusable, though this is not necessarily Opera’s fault: most websites automatically switch to a stripped-down mobile view when they see a request from Opera Mini, no matter the size of the screen the site is rendered on. This means lots of screen estate simply goes wasted and usability suffers.
The ‘Mini’ versions of Opera, which are also available for a wide variety of other operating systems, doesn’t actually render the sites on the mobile device. Instead, every website you request passes through Opera’s servers, is compressed and then sent to your phone or tablet. This makes it very fast, but in the first iPhone version, Opera was a bit too aggressive about how it compressed text and images.
With regards to features, Opera can hold its own with other third-part iOS browsers like Atomic Web and Perfect Browser. The browser does, for example, feature Facebook and Twitter sharing, full-screen view and support for bookmark syncing with Opera Link.
What’s missing, though, is the ability to switch the user agent so Opera Mini can identify itself as a desktop browser on the iPad.
As all other third-party iOS browsers, Opera also suffers from the fact that users can’t set it as the default browser. Even if you love Opera, the iPad will still open Safari when you click on a link in an email.
Blame Chrome. Ever since Google started releasing self-updating developer versions of its browser, other browser developers have been following suit. Mozilla now uses the same concept for releasing early (and potentially unstable) versions of Firefox. Starting today, Opera will use the same concept to give early adopters a sneak peek at upcoming versions of its browser, too. Dubbed Opera Next, users can install this self-updating version in parallel to the stable version of Opera to check out new features before they become widely available (the Next and stable versions will remain two completely separate installs).
Unlike Chrome and Firefox, though, Opera will not develop multiple versions at the same time, instead, the Next channel will keep users updated from early snapshots to alpha, beta, release candidates and stable versions as Opera releases these. Once a stable version is released, the process will start over with the snapshots of the next version.
Also New: Live Speed Dial
The latest preview version of Opera also features the company’s new “Live Speed Dial extensions.” Just like in Chrome (though it’s worth noting that Opera pioneered this), whenever you open an empty tab, a number of icons appear in the browser that represent the sites you visit most often. Now, developers and publishers who want to make use of this new feature can also show small live previews of a site or other interactive experiences.
By default, the speed dial only shows the top left corner of a site (where the site’s logo can typically be found), but once it’s set up correctly, publishers can use Opera’s new Speed Dial extension to easily create small interactive widgets. Opera is currently featuring a few of these on its extension page here.
Among the major browser vendors, Google’s Chrome is currently the only one that has not signed on to use the Do Not Track feature that Mozilla has been lobbying for. While Microsoft, Apple, Firefox and Opera have either already implemented this feature or will do so soon, Google is still holding out. According to Mozilla’s director of community development Asa Dotzler, the “Chrome team is bowing to pressure from Google’s advertising business and that’s a real shame.” Indeed, Dotzler says in his blog post, this situation is similar to what happened when Netscape released version 7.0 of its browser.
For Netscape 7.0, which according to Dotzler “was basically Mozilla 1.0 with a Netscape theme and a couple of proprietary Netscape features,” Netscape decided to remove the pop-up blocker that Mozilla 1.0 had just developed. The Netscape team had to bow to the pressure of AOL/Netscape as those sites depended on advertising money (including pop-up ads) to fund their work. The next version of Netscape did include the pop-up blocker, but excluded all Netscape/AOL/Time-Warner sites from this by default.
Pressure from Advertisers – Or Something Else?
It’s hard to say if it’s really pressure from Google’s advertising side that is keeping Chrome from supporting the Do Not Track feature. In its current form, browsers that support this feature just sent a header to the server that tells the publisher and advertiser that this particular user is opting out from being tracked. In its current form, this feature is – at best – a public demonstration that you would like to opt out, but advertisers don’t have to honor it. Indeed, you can’t even know if advertisers have seen it and intent to respect your choice. As such, pleading support to a feature that currently has no real effect is pretty easy at this point.
This could change in the long run, though. Given that various government agencies have started to look into online tracking and its privacy implications, online advertisers have every interest in supporting this feature if they want to continue to self-regulate without interference from Washington. In the comments on his post, Dotzler rightly notes that it’ll be impossible to get 100% of advertisers to agree to using this feature. Once you get a majority of them on board, though, you can “shame the remaining 20% by telling the user when they visit those sites that those sites aren’t honoring their wishes”
So what do you think? Is the Chrome team under pressure from the rest of Google to ignore this Do Not Track feature? Or is Google just waiting to see what happens and will implement this later?
Now that Firefox 4 has already been downloaded more than 8 million times, it’s time to look ahead and see what Mozilla has in store for Firefox for the rest of the year.
The Chrome Model: At Least Three More Version of Firefox This Year
While it took twelve public betas and two release candidates before Mozilla shipped version 4, the organization expects to ship at least three more versions over the course of this year, thanks in large part to a new development process that resembles Google’s method for regularly pushing out new stable versions of Chrome. These new versions will ship roughly every 16 weeks (with the option to ship even faster) and will be developed in a number of separate branches, just like Chrome.
What’s on the Firefox Roadmap for 2011?
Thankfully, we don’t need to resort to guesses when it comes to what’s next for Firefox this year. Mozilla’s roadmap for 2011 lays out the group’s plans in detail. Besides the faster update cadence, Mozilla plans to ensure that there is never more than a 50ms delay between a user action and the application reacting to it. The group also plans to “shine the primary UI until it gleams,” with a focus on making the interface more polished and adding more animations to the user interface.
For users, this also means that the next versions of Firefox will bring integrated support for Mozilla’s sharing tool (currently known as F1) and account manager, which is meant to give users more control over their online identities and make signing in to web apps easier.
There has also been some talk about creating support for site-specific browsers to Firefox, though the 2011 roadmap does not stress this anymore.
On the back end, Mozilla obviously plans to continue adding support for modern web technologies, but the Firefox team also plans to finally bring support for its multi-process project Electrolysis to its browser (a project it started in 2009). While Firefox currently sandboxes some plugins like Flash – meaning the browser won’t crash just because Flash crashed – the plan is to give a new process to every open tab. With this technology in place, if a web app in one tab crashes, just that tab is affected and the rest of the browser just continues to work.
The Next 3 Versions of Firefox
Here are Mozilla’s plans for the specific versions it plans to release over the course of this year. This list is likely going to change, so take this with a grain of salt. Mozilla also notes that it plans to add anything that improves responsiveness and stability, as well as anything that enhances the interface to these versions whenever it is ready, no matter the current version number.
Mozilla just released Firefox 4, the next generation of its popular Internet browser. This new version is not just significantly faster than Firefox 3, but it also features a new, highly streamlined interface and a number of new tools that should make Firefox 4 even more popular among power users.
There are lots of new features in the new version of Mozilla’s browser (plugin isolation on all platforms, support for modern web standards like HTML5, new security and privacy features, etc.), but here are the key new features of Firefox 4:
In Firefox 4, Mozilla’s designers worked to keep distractions to a minimum and reduce the interface clutter in favor of providing more screen estate for the Web itself.
Gone, for example, is the menu bar in the Windows version. Instead, similar to Chrome and Internet Explorer, all the options are now available in one menu and the tabs have moved up to the top of the window. Bookmarking, too, has become easier and faster and just takes one click now.
This doesn’t mean that Firefox 4 was dumbed down, though. A lot of cool functionality for power users is just a bit hidden but easily available. You can use the URL bar to switch between tabs, for example.
That said, though, I ran both the SunSpider and Kraken benchmark on Firefox 4 and compared it to the latest developer version of Chrome (11.0.696.16). On average (after three test runs on a Mac) Firefox 4 easily beat Chrome. (Kraken: 4211.7ms vs. 4963.5ms; SunSpider: 189.2ms vs. 212.5ms).
Benchmarks can only convey so much about how fast the browser feels, and most users won’t notice any significant differences between most modern browsers. Firefox 4 does feel significantly faster than any earlier version, though, and I can’t help but think that it also feels faster than Chrome now.
Most of us now work on multiple computers and Internet-connected devices every day, but it’s still surprisingly hard to keep bookmarks between these machines in sync. With Firefox Sync (formerly known as Weave), you can now easily keep all these machines in sync. All you have to do is type in your password (generated by Firefox) and Mozilla will keep your bookmarks in sync. Syncing to mobile versions of Firefox is coming soon, too.
It’s worth noting that Google Chrome offers a similar feature, too.
App tabs allow you to, as Mozilla puts it, “give a permanent home to frequently visited sites like Web mail, Twitter, Pandora or Flickr.” Your apps then live in small tabs on the left side of your tab bar.
These app tabs will also alert you when something has changed in the web app (like a newly arrived email). This doesn’t work perfectly for all apps, though. Firefox watched for the site’s title to change, which most web mail providers do, but most other sites don’t.
I prefer Mozilla’s implementation of this feature over Chrome’s, because it defaults to loading all the links you click on in the app tab in a new tab.
If you become a regular user of app tabs, also consider installing the Easy App Tabs plugin, which allows you to turn a regular tab into an app tab by simply double-clicking on any tab.
Installing Plugins Without Restart
Yes, other browser developers already offer this (and didn’t spend close to two years developing their software), but for Firefox’s power users, this is a major update. Developers have to support this feature, so not every add-on will install without restarts just yet, but there are already quite a few out there that do.
As Nightingale told me, 40% of Firefox users today have installed add-ons. Today, close to 80% of these add-ons are compatible with Firefox 4 and more compatible versions are coming online every day. The new built-in add-on manager also makes finding and installing interesting extensions a lot faster and easier.
Here is another feature mainly geared towards power users that stays out of the way if you don’t want to use it. Panorama allows you to visually organize your tabs into groups. You can, for example, open up a new group for the research you are doing and another one for your web mail. The two stay separate from each other. I know many people who love this feature, which made me include it here, but it’s not ideal for how I use the browser. Give it a try, though – it might just save you a lot of trouble and enhance your browsing experience.
Firefox 4’s official release date is tomorrow, but the final version of Mozilla’s latest browser is already available on the project’s FTP servers. Just pick the right version and language for your system from Mozilla’s directory (Windows, Linux or Mac), download the installer and you are ready to go. You can also use these links for direct downloads:
Uploading these files to the various servers that mirror Mozilla’s apps is part of the regular release process that ensures that the organization’s official servers won’t be overloaded once the official release data arrives. You can rest assured that these are indeed the official files.
It’s worth noting, though, that Mozilla’s outgoing director of Firefox Mike Beltzner points out that “Firefox 4 isn’t ready until www.mozilla.com/firefox says so!”
If you followed along during Firefox 4’s long and arduous development period, then the final release version doesn’t bring any surprises. Those who are still using Firefox 3, though, will surely find version 4 to be a faster and more efficient browser. We will have a full review of Firefox 4 tomorrow.