Archive for the ‘Software & Tools’ Category

File Under: Software & Tools

Microsoft Takes on Dropbox With Major SkyDrive Update

By Peter Bright, Ars Technica

A couple of years ago we lamented the state of Microsoft’s cloud storage services. On the one hand, there was SkyDrive, with gobs of storage. On the other hand, there was Mesh, with file synchronization and remote access. Two separate products, when really there should have been one.

And now there is. Microsoft has rolled out a set of new SkyDrive apps and new online capabilities to make SkyDrive the one-stop shop for file syncing and remote file access. On the software side, there are new clients for Windows and Mac OS X to sync files with the cloud, and updated versions of the Windows Phone and iOS clients (there’s no first-party Android app, but Microsoft recommends a couple of third-party programs).

On the cloud side, there’s are some major changes to availability. Under the old system, users had 25 GB of non-synced SkyDrive cloud storage, and 5 GB of synced Mesh storage. Now, there’s just a single 7 GB of synced storage, with paid options to buy more space, starting at $10 for 20 GB per year, up to $50 for 100 GB per year. Though this increases the amount of synced storage, it nonetheless represents a reduction in total storage availability. However, any users that signed up for SkyDrive before April 22, and who have uploaded at least one file to the service, are eligible for a free upgrade to 25 GB. Existing users with at least 4 GB uploaded will pick up the 25 GB update automatically.

The software client incorporates most of Mesh’s features. It performs file synchronization, and it also optionally enables remote file system access, allowing even non-SkyDrive files to be accessed via the SkyDrive site. With Mesh, we were critical of the way it lacked the simplicity of Dropbox, with its prominently displayed “magic” synchronized folder. The new SkyDrive all but clones Dropbox’s way of working, with a new special “SkyDrive” folder created in your user directory, and all files placed in that folder automatically synced.

After authorizing via SMS, you can use any computer to browse the disks of any computer running the SkyDrive client app. Image: Microsoft

A handful of Mesh features haven’t made their way to the new client. Mesh offered limiting synchronization of settings such as Internet Explorer bookmarks. The new SkyDrive does not. Setting synchronization via SkyDrive will, however, be an important feature of Windows 8, so it’s likely that this feature will return in some capacity. Mesh (like Dropbox) also offered syncing over LAN when it detected that machines could share files without going over the Internet. This capability has been dropped in SkyDrive.

Mesh also offered remote desktop access similar to that found in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol. This was a great feature, as it worked even on Windows SKUs that had no native remote desktop facility. It also worked without requiring any ports to be forwarded on routers, so it had zero maintenance overhead. The removal of this feature is a pity; even Windows 8 retains Remote Desktop’s positioning as a “premium” feature, with neither the standard Windows 8 SKU nor the ARM Windows RT SKU able to serve as Remote Desktop hosts. Windows users may have to start looking elsewhere to fill this gap.

These latest changes to SkyDrive come hot on the hells of last week’s updates, in which Microsoft added URL shortening, ODF support, and 300 MB in-browser uploads to SkyDrive.

The company is aggressively positioning SkyDrive as a superior alternative to Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, and Google’s apps storage. With the new client, SkyDrive has become a lot more useful to a lot more people, and Windows 8′s SkyDrive integration is set to take this to another level.

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

Adobe Puts Flex Out to Open Source Pasture

If you needed further proof that even Adobe is done with Flash, look no further than the company’s recent announcement that it will open source the Flash-based Flex SDK. Adobe plans to turn over its Flex SDK to the Apache Software Foundation.

Flex is the company’s development framework for building cross-platform applications using Adobe Flash and ActionScript. The SDK’s focus on data-driven apps made Flex a popular choice with Adobe’s enterprise customers, many of whom are no doubt feeling a bit let down to see Adobe walking away from Flex.

Much of the Flex codebase is already open source; what’s changing with the move to the Apache Software Foundation is the governance of Flex. Adobe is no longer the sole guiding force behind Flex.

Ordinarily, when a company opens up a project like Flex it’s good news for developers, but in this case it feels more like Adobe’s exit strategy. The community of Flex developers may have gained some more control over Flex’s future, but that future looks pretty bleak.

Adobe has already made it clear that the company plans to refocus its efforts on HTML5, and, while it says it intends to continue supporting Flex, it also says, “in the long-term, we believe HTML5 will be the best technology for enterprise application development.”

In fact the initial message about the future of Flex was dire enough that Adobe felt the need to update its FAQ to specifically address concerns that it is abandoning Flex. “Absolutely not,” says Adobe in the updated statement, adding that the company is “incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved with Flex.”

While the updated statement is intended to reassure Flex developers, it’s hard to miss the use of the past participle in reference to Flex, which doesn’t bode well for developers looking to the future. It’s also hard to miss the reiterated commitment to HTML5. “In time,” says Adobe, “we believe HTML5 could support the majority of use cases where Flex is used today.” The company puts the timeframe for most applications in the three- to five-year range. In other words, Adobe believes Flex is only a good bet for the immediate future, developers interested in building something with more long term viability would do well to consider the web and HTML5.

For more details on the future of Flex and Flash, be sure to read through Adobe’s updated FAQ on the subject.

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Yahoo’s YSlow Now Available for Opera

YSlow, Yahoo’s web development tool (since released as an open source project, YSLow) designed to help you speed up your site’s page load times by showing you exactly what’s slowing them down, is now available for Opera. YSlow began life as a Firefox extension but has since been ported to Google Chrome, and is also available as a JavaScript bookmarklet for mobile and other browsers.

The new YSlow Opera extension is basically the JavaScript bookmarklet wrapped in some native code so that it gets its own toolbar button and settings file. If you’d like to add it to Opera, head on over to the Opera add-ons site and download a copy.

Opera already ships with Dragonfly, an impressive set of web development tools to rival Firebug or anything you’ll find in Webkit browsers. Adding YSlow to the Opera toolkit makes the browser an even more compelling choice for web developers.

Illustration from “Physics for Entertainment” by Yakov Isidorovich Perelman from Archive.org

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Review: Adobe’s Edge Offers Web Animation Sans Flash

Adobe has released a preview version of a new HTML animation tool dubbed Edge. Together with Wallaby, Adobe’s Flash-to-HTML conversion app, Edge is part of Adobe’s push to remind the web that the company is more than just its much-maligned Flash plugin.

Edge has been released as a free, beta public preview and is available for download through the Adobe Labs website.

Edge is not intended to replace Adobe Flash. At least not in the short term. Instead Edge is aimed at Flash animators looking for a visual way into the world of HTML, CSS and JavaScript-based animations, particularly the relatively simple animations often currently found in Flash-based advertisements.

HTML, especially some of the new elements in HTML5, combined with CSS 3′s animation syntax offers web designers a way to create sophisticated animations without requiring users to have the Flash plugin installed. That’s a good thing since no iOS user is going to have the Flash plugin.

Unfortunately, HTML, CSS and JavaScript don’t offer any easy way to create animations. Developers comfortable writing raw code in text editors have, thus far, been the driving force behind web standards-based animation. Designers and animators accustomed to development tools like Flash, which offers visual layouts and drag-and-drop animation, have been left out of the web standards animation trend.

Edge is Adobe’s attempt to bring the good parts of the Flash development app — visual animation tools, keyframe-based timelines and a stage where you can drag-and-drop objects — to the world of web standards-based animation. But of course, instead of publishing your animations as Flash files, Edge publishes them as web standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Like Hype (see our review) and other HTML animation apps out there, Edge looks and behaves much like Adobe’s Flash development environment with a timeline, keyframes and editing tools that will look familiar to Flash developers. If you know how to use Flash, you’ll be up to speed with Edge in no time.

The Edge interface should look familiar to anyone who has used Flash.

Despite Adobe’s marketing efforts, there’s almost nothing about Edge that is HTML5. Adobe is hardly alone in its misleading use of the HTML5 moniker. Both Hype and Sencha Animator claim to be “HTML5″ animation apps and, like Adobe, neither generates much of anything that isn’t in the HTML4 spec.

In its current form Edge will export your animations using div tags, some CSS animations, a fair bit of JSON and a combination of jQuery and some custom JavaScript to hold everything together.

Why go with div and CSS-based animations when there’s Canvas and SVG? Well, for one thing, this is a very early preview and Adobe claims that eventually Edge will support canvas and SVG (in fact Edge already has some support for importing SVG file). A Mozilla developer raised this question in the Adobe forums and Adobe’s Mark Anders chimed in to say that, “we seriously considered canvas, but current performance on mobile browsers (especially iOS) is very bad.”

Anders goes on to note that iOS 5 will remedy much of iOS’s canvas performance woes, and Adobe is clearly looking for developer feedback on where to go with Edge. If you’ve got strong feelings about where Edge should focus its efforts, head over to the forums and let Adobe know.

While Edge is a long way from a finished product, this early release shows considerable promise. If you’re a Flash developer looking to expand your repertoire to include HTML, CSS and JavaScript animations, Edge just might help. For a nice overview of how to use Edge be sure to check out Mark Anders’ Edge overview movie on Adobe TV.

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New, Improved Firebug Works with Firefox 5+

Firebug, the popular web development add-on for Firefox has released version 1.8 with a host of new features and compatibility with Firefox 5.0. More important, for those of you using the Beta and Aurora Firefox channels, the Firebug 1.9 alpha line has been released with support for Firefox 6 through Firefox 8. The alpha release will obviously be less stable, but if you want Aurora and Firebug it’s your only option.

If you’ve already got Firebug installed it should auto update shortly. If you’d like to take the latest version for a spin, head over to the Get Firebug site.

Much of the work in Firebug 1.8 went into behind the scenes optimizations and speed improvements, but there are some notable new features as well, including a revamped HTML Preview in the Net panel, some new DOM Panel options and better CSS color tooltips with rgba, hsl and hsla values.

For more details on the major new features head over to the Mozilla Hacks blog. To see a complete list of everything that’s new in Firebug 1.8, check out the release notes.

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