Archive for the ‘Software & Tools’ Category

File Under: Browsers, Software & Tools

Chrome Web Browser Adds Automatic Translation, Better Privacy Controls

The stable versions of Google’s Chrome web browser have been updated, including some important security fixes for users of the Windows version.

Among the feature highlights in the recent update are better privacy controls, automatic translation of sites not in your native language, and the ability to selectively block JavaScript, pop-up windows, cookies and images by domain.

The new features included in these updates have been available in the beta channel for some time (see our earlier review), but if you’ve been sticking with the stable channel now you to can enjoy the new toys.

While the new features mentioned above only apply to the Windows version of Chrome, Google did recently release some bug fixes and features upgrades to the development channel of the Mac version of Chrome.

Chrome for Mac recently gained a much-improved bookmarks panel that makes it easier to save and edit bookmarks than the previous, virtually non-existent bookmark manager. The Chrome for Mac development team cautions that the new bookmark manager still has bugs, but if you’re desperate for better bookmark tools, it’s definitely worth switching to the development channel.

Google has also released an update for its controversial Chrome Frame, which injects Chrome’s rendering engine into Internet Explorer. The latest version of Chrome Frame is more tightly integrated with IE — it now uses IE’s built-in pop-up blocker — and fixes a number of crashing bugs. You can grab the latest version of the Chrome Frame download page.

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File Under: Browsers, Software & Tools

Is Opera 10.5 the ‘Fastest Browser on Earth?’ Maybe.

Opera 10.5 beta on the desktop.

Opera has released the first beta for Opera 10.5, boasting that it’s “the fastest browser on Earth.” We took a copy for a spin and found that it is indeed snappy, besting Safari 4 and Firefox 3.6 in our informal testing.

At the moment the Opera 10.5 beta is available for Windows only; the Mac and Linux versions of Opera 10.5 remain alpha releases, though Opera assures Webmonkey that beta releases for both are in the works.

Part of the reason of the delay on other platforms may be Opera 10.5′s focus on tightly integrating with Windows 7. As we mentioned in our review of the first alpha, Opera 10.5 beta takes advantage of all the Aero Glass effects in Windows 7 and integrates nicely with Aero Peek, Jump Lists and other Win 7-specific features.

Opera 10.5′s new “Opera menu” saves screen real estate.

Opera 10.5 also looks significantly different, having eliminated the menu bar in favor a new “Opera menu,” which looks and behaves much like the single button menus found in Microsoft Office. The Opera menu is unobtrusive, hanging down like an inverted tab on the far left of your window, and saves considerable screen real estate, making it very nice for netbooks. If it’s not to your liking you can turn the old menu back on by clicking “show menu bar.”

Aside from the revamped look of Opera 10.5 the big news in the beta release is speed. Opera is calling the beta “the faster browser on Earth,” a bold claim, but one that, at least partially, lives up the hype.

In our informal testing Opera recorded the fastest start up times of any browser in Windows 7, besting even Chrome by just a hair. When it comes to page rendering times the new Carakan rendering engine and the new Vega graphics engine in Opera 10.5 clearly speed things up, but as for the fastest browser on Earth, well, it’s hard to say.

Certainly Opera 10.5 is significantly faster than the current, official version of Opera, and can hold its own with any other browser out there. Opera 10.5 consistently beat Safari’s page rendering times, but against Firefox and Chrome the results were a bit more of a mixed bag — sometimes Opera came out on top, other times not.

However, at this point all four browsers are so close in terms of speed that the real differentiating factor is the feature set. And it’s here that Opera really shines with nice Windows 7 features as well as plenty of extras, including everything from a BitTorrent client to Opera’s Unite web server tools (not part of the beta release, but no doubt set to arrive before Opera 10.5 is finished).

Opera 10.5 beta also has some small, but very useful new features like the new URL bar search field. Part of Opera’s new URL search features are lifted from Firefox’s Awesomebar — allowing you to search your history and bookmarks as you type — but Opera goes a little beyond Firefox by allowing your to search actual content on the pages you’ve visited, and integrates your search engine plugins (which leaves us wondering why there’s still a separate search box).

Opera 10.5 also sees the browser continuing its pioneering support for web standards with more HTML5 support (including the video tag using the Ogg Theora codec) and CSS 3 (transitions and transforms are now supported).

Last but not least, Opera catches up to other browsers by adding a private browsing mode.

Although this release is still a beta, we found it to be plenty stable in our testing and the speed boost definitely makes it worth a download if you’re an Opera fan (and using Windows). Mac and Linux users will have to wait, but we’ll be sure to let you know when those versions are available.

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Google Drops Support for IE6, Firefox Goes Mobile

From the weekend desk, two items announced late Friday afternoon we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you about.

First, Google is officially dropping support for IE6. Come March 1st, the company is also going to start phasing out support for other older browsers from Apple, Mozilla and Google itself, but IE6 is the one everyone’s most happy to see gone. The notoriously buggy browser is still supported by some institutions and large organizations. The new minimum browser requirements in Google Apps will be Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0, Mozilla Firefox 3.0, Google Chrome 4.0 and Safari 3.0.

Second, Mozilla has launched Firefox for mobiles running Nokia’s Maemo operating system. This is the first official 1.0 version of Mobile Firefox, and the first mobile browser ever to support add-ons. We took it for a test drive when it was still in beta and found it to be quite slick.

File Under: Software & Tools

Opera Unite Puts a Web Server in Your Web Browser

Opera Software announced a new beta of its flagship Opera 10 browser Wednesday that comes with Opera Unite built in. Opera Unite is essentially a web server that runs inside the browser — instead of just passively browsing the web, Opera Unite lets you share photos, chat and host a simple website directly on your own computer.

The goal of Opera Unite is to allow users to build and host not only websites, but also custom web apps powered by JavaScript, which could be used to power private social networks like mini-Facebooks or mini-Flickrs, collaborative tools like Google Wave or even file sharing darknets. To show off its abilities, Opera is also releasing several apps that run on Unite, including a simple photo gallery maker, a chat application and a streaming music player.

To get started with Opera Unite, you’ll need to download the latest beta version of Opera 10. Once installed, just click the Unite button in the lower left corner of the browser and set up an account. Once Unite is up and running, you can enable the default applications which covering sharing photos, posting messages on your friend’s “fridge,” chatting, listening to music, sharing files and, of course, hosting web pages.

When Unite was first announced, we noted it was heavy on hype and light on delivery. Now that Unite is actually part of Opera 10, we like where Opera seems to be aiming with Unite and look forward to seeing how it develops. As so often happens with Opera innovations, the ideas behind Unite may well percolate up into other browsers as well.

Getting started with Unite is marginally easier than turning on the web server that shipped with your OS, since in this case you never need to leave the browser. Unite also seamlessly handles all the complicated stuff associated with traditional web servers, like opening firewall ports or setting up DNS redirects. Unite takes care of all that behind the scenes.

But Unite also has the same drawbacks that stop most people from setting up home servers using the software provided by your OS — namely bandwidth and uptime.

The bandwidth available to Unite is limited to what your ISP provides. However, at this point in the broadband world, bandwidth isn’t the real issue. The real issue is uptime. Close your laptop and all the data you’re sharing through Unite vanishes. For some applications in Unite, like chatting or posting notes, this isn’t a big deal. For others, like hosting your own website or sharing files, it severely limits the usefulness of Unite.

However, while we wouldn’t suggest using Unite to host a client’s website or anything related to a business, for casual websites or tasks like sharing photos with friends, Unite works quite well. Should you turn off Unite, visitors will see a message informing them that you’re offline, but as soon as you sign in again, everything returns to normal.

The things you share through Opera Unite can be viewed by anyone using any web browser; there’s no need to turn your friends into Opera converts. That said, if you want your friends to also share things through Unite, then they’re going to need to download Opera, just like they would need to join Facebook if you want to share things through Facebook.

While there’s no doubt Opera would like to see Unite steal a bit of thunder from popular social networks like Facebook, it isn’t hard to see another great use for Unite — it makes the perfect darknet file sharing server.

Opera Unite lacks a BitTorrent client for sharing files among your friends — an odd oversight given that Opera 10 already has a BitTorrent client — but even if you’re limited to traditional server-style, incremental downloads, Unite makes a handy way to swap files totally outside the view of prying eyes.

Want to grab the latest episode of some TV drama from your friend? Just ask them to privately share that file, send you the password and you’re away. Opera claims it isn’t logging what you share and so long as you keep the file private, none should be the wiser.

Which brings us to privacy. Unite’s default setting for most apps keeps your files private. Even if someone has your Unite URL, in order to actually see your files they’ll need to know a password that you control.

Alternately, you can opt-in to sharing your data publicly. Be aware that, should you opt to make your photos or other files public, they will be exposed to the entire web, including search-engine spiders. That means changing your mind about the public setting is a bit more complex — just because you change something from public to private, doesn’t mean that content will be immediately expunged from Google’s index.

In short, when it comes to privacy, Opera Unite is much more a web server and much less a protected network like Facebook. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a difference you need to be aware of.

Perhaps the most exciting part of Opera Unite is the ability to write your own applications. Unite apps are built using web standard tools like HTML and JavaScript. If you can build a website, you shouldn’t have any trouble building an application for Unite. At the moment there aren’t too many third-party apps available for Unite, but once the Opera community has a chance to play with Unite, look for the number of available apps to shoot through the roof.

Grab the free download from Opera, and remember that Opera Unite is beta software. The company hasn’t provided a timeline for a final release.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Cliqset Debuts a Desktop App for the Real-Time Web

Social aggregation service Cliqset has launched two new tools for tracking your friends’ activities on the bevy of social sites that make up the real-time web.

The company has released a desktop app for discovering shared items like status updates, photos or videos — and all the discussions related to those posts — across the dozens of sites Cliqset supports. Also announced Tuesday morning is Cliqset’s new social app for Boxee which lets you chat with your friends while you’re watching videos culled from around the web.

The Boxee app is cool, but the new desktop client is the bigger deal. It’s a slick application that improves upon similar apps already on the market, and we’d recommend you take it for a spin if you’re a social web power user.

Cliqset’s new desktop app is a lot like Tweetdeck, the popular app for following activity on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. Like Tweetdeck and other aggregation apps like Seesmic Desktop, Cliqset’s app is build with AIR, Adobe’s platform based on Flash that runs on Mac, Windows and Linux.

But while Tweetdeck and other similar apps only pull status updates from Twitter and couple of other sites, Cliqset pulls all activities and updates from the bulk of the social web. You can see photos, videos, comments, likes, and ratings from Flickr, StumbleUpon, Picasa, Delicious and what have you — over 70 social websites are supported. You can cross-post to multiple services, filter posts by type and create custom groups to better track your friends. This brings Cliqset’s app very close to the web-based experience the company offers on its website.

Note: the AIR apps from the likes of Tweetdeck, Seesmic and Yammer are more mature, and thus more stable, than the beta Cliqset is releasing Tuesday. Expect hiccups.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Cliqset relaunched its website as a full-fledged aggregation hub, complete with a user interface that auto-refreshes as new items are shared, new statuses are posted or new comments are made across any of the social sites you belong to. It’s still in beta, but you can sign up for access. The site serves as a single point of entry into the real-time web, a model that’s become increasingly attractive as more of our online social activity moves onto services that provide instant access to information. Twitter and Facebook are some familiar examples, but Google is also getting into the real-time game with its new Wave collaboration tool and recent enhancements to Google Docs which allow groups to instantly share document updates more easily.

Cliqset is doing more than jumping on the real-time bandwagon here, though.

Much of the data flowing across the social web gets broadcast in code that doesn’t interact well with other services. This becomes a problem when a developer wants to create an app that pulls in data from multiple services. Cliqset’s platform — which both its website and the new desktop client take advantage of — actually re-writes much of that code in the Activity Streams format, an emerging standard data format for exchanging updates on the social web. So, Cliqset’s platform is actually picking up the streams of data from the social web and ensuring they’re well-formed before making them available freely to anyone.

The company has another advantage working for it, but it’s largely coincidental.

Much of the spotlight for real-time web aggregation in the past few months has been hogged, deservedly so, by FriendFeed. The service rocketed to popularity earlier this year before being purchased by Facebook. Facebook says it plans on keeping FriendFeed alive and humming as-is, but the service will most likely eventually be folded into Facebook’s experience and cease to exist as a stand-alone site.

There’s been much speculation about where fans of FriendFeed — who may or may not be fans of Facebook’s proprietary authentication system or its protective data-sharing policies — will go once FriendFeed disappears or becomes a less friendly place to share one’s social assets. Plaxo is one possible destination. Though we haven’t seen it, Threadsy appears to have promise.

Cliqset remains a very strong contender, and this desktop app should win the service some new fans.

We’re still waiting on native Cliqset apps for the iPhone and Android. When those arrive, which should be soon, we expect Cliqset to really take off.