SiliconFilter

Mozilla Launches Firefox 11 Beta with Add-on Sync, SPDY Support and a 3D Page Inspector

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Just a few days after the official launch of Firefox 10, Mozilla today also announced the latest Firefox beta for version 11 of the groups' popular browser. Most of the new features in this beta are geared toward developers, including a 3D debugging tool and a new style editor. For regular users, this beta features add-on sync, which lets you sync your installed add-ons between different machines, as well as an updated migration tool which now also features support for switching from Chrome. The Firefox 11 beta now also supports the SPDY protocol, which was designed as the successor to the ubiquitous HTTP and which can significantly speed up page load times.

SPDY, which was conceived by Google, uses a number of techniques to speed up the file transfer between a server and your browser (including by using fewer connections and downloading images in parallel, for example). Most of Google's sites already support SPDY (as does Google Chrome) and the number of sites and services that utilize this new protocol continues to grow quickly.

Note: as usual, please keep in mind that this is a beta version. It's pretty stable at this point, but don't be upset if it crashes.

3D Page Inspector

It's not often that we talk about tools for web developers that utilize 3D (WebGL, in this case), but Mozilla now lets you zoom around any website in a 3D tilt mode that makes it easier to discover elements that are hidden or off the page.

Page inspector 3d

Less visual, but nevertheless a welcome addition to Firefox's toolkit is the new Style Editor. With this tool, developers can now easily experiment with chances to a page's CSS stylesheet and see these reflected on the screen immediately. Google offers a similar feature for Chrome as well.

NewImage



3:10 pm


Report: Web Pages are Getting More Bloated, Average Size is Up 25% From Last Year

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Our browsers are getting faster and so are our Internet connections, but in parallel to this, the web pages we access are actually getting bigger, too. According to uptime monitoring service Pingdom, the average website grew an astonishing 25% over the last year. The main culprits here are images and JavaScript. Images now weigh in at 451 kB on the average web page, an increase of 21% compared to the 372 kB Pingdom recorded 12 months ago. While they are smaller on average than images, the size of the average JavaScript files on a web page is now 149 kB, up 45% from last year.

The average web page now clocks in at 980 KB and it takes about 87 requests to load those pages.

the size of the average web page in 2010 and 2011

As developers now focus more on adding interactive elements to their sites with the help of HTML5 and JavaScript, the size of these files will likely continue to increase. For most broadband users, these increases won’t really make any practical difference. On slower 3G connections, though, and for those who still use dial-up connections, these increases are meaningful.

Pingdom notes that “size optimization seems to have gone out the window pretty much across the board.” Given how easy it is to at least compress images more effectively and maybe minify the JavaScript and CSS on a site, it’s a shame that so many developers and publishers don’t seem to do so (and yes, looking at our site here, we could definitely do some more of that as well).



5:49 pm


Adobe Makes Designing for Mobile a Bit Easier with ThemeRoller for jQuery Mobile

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The jQuery JavaScript library is one of those tools that most regular users never notice, but that has made creating mobile websites significantly easier for developer over the last few years. For a while now, there has been a design tool called the jQuery ThemeRoller that made it easier for developers to create a consistent design for their apps. Today, Adobe – together with the Filament Group – is launching the first public beta of the mobile version of ThemeRoller for jQuery Mobile. With this WYSIWYG tool, users can easily build a mobile theme, download it and share it with others without ever having to touch the code itself.

theme_roller_large

The design options include tools for creating CSS gradients (to make your buttons look better, for example) and the ability to create up to 26 unique “color swatches” within a single theme. The jQuery blog features a full run-down of the apps’ features.

Another nifty features of ThemeRoller is that it integrates with Adobe’s Kuler App Service. This provides even those developers with very little design sense with libraries of interesting color sets developed by the user community there.

Once finished, developers can then download their creations for use in their own project. You can also collaborate on designs by sharing a URL to your theme with your friends and coworkers.



10:20 pm


Opera: It’s Time to Rethink How We Publish Texts Online

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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.”

opera_reader_on_the_web

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.

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9:09 pm


Google Wants to Speed Up Your Site With Page Speed Service

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With Page Speed Service, Google just announced a new service that could make your sites load faster.

Just a few weeks ago, Google announced Instant Pages, a service that pre-renders and then quickly loads some of the top search results for Chrome users. Today, Google announced the next step in its drive to make all of the web – and not just Google’s own sites – significantly faster. Page Speed Service wants to bring speed-ups to any site on the net that points its DNS entry to Google.

Mod_Pagespeed as a Service

Quite a few larger sites already use services that offload some of their files to content delivery networks, but this system is a bit different. Just last year, Google launched mod_pagespeed, a module for the popular Apache web server. Page Speed Service basically turns ths module into an on-demand service. By applying “web performance best practices,” as Google calls it, the service can speed up the loading times of your site by between 25% and 60% on average. That is quite a significant number and the improved performance is achieved by concatenating CSS, compressing your images, and gzipping resources.

Caching

This system also agressively caches content, though it’s important to note that this is not a traditional content delivery network and does not support Flash, streaming audio and video content. Google will, however, serve some of your files from its servers around the world, leading to even faster download times for your users who are further away from your server.

Geting Started

Advanced webmasters can easily add the mod_pagespeed module to their own setup, but for those who just want an easy way to speed up their sites and don’t have the in-house expertise to manipulate their server setup – and don’t mind pointing their DNS to Google’s servers – this new system should prove to be quite useful.

It’s worth noting that some services, including the CloudFlare service we use to speed up this site, already offer similar features (including CSS compression, CDN-like image caching etc.).

Page Speed Service is still only being tested by a small number of sites, but you can see how much it could speed up your site here and then sign up for early access here. For now, the service is available for free, but Google plans to charge for it at a later point. While the price is not clear yet, Google promises that it will be “competitive.”

 



3:23 pm