Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

File Under: Software, Web Services

Using the New Features in Adobe BrowserLab

BrowserLabThe following tutorial comes to us courtesy of Adobe. The company introduced some new enhancements to its BrowserLab service last week to improve its cross-browser testing abilities, and this is an overview of how to use some of these enhancements.

We told you about BrowserLab here on Webmonkey when it first showed up as part of Dreamweaver CS5 in April. It’s a hosted service that lets web developers preview their work across multiple browsers and operating systems in a single environment. Since it’s a hosted service, Adobe can update the backend with the latest code from all the popular browser engines as they’re updated in the real world.

It integrates fully with Creative Suite 5, so if you’re using Dreamweaver, you can launch BrowserLab previews at any point in your workflow and test your live code against all the major browsers.

Adobe may eventually turn BrowserLab into a paid service (the cost will likely be between $200-300 per year), but if you sign up for access before April 30, 2011, you can secure an account for a full year at no charge. All you need is an Adobe ID login, which is free.

The new features of the include a BrowserLab add-on for Firebug and the ability to smart-align screenshots. There are also some further integrations with Creative Suite 5. To walk us through using these new features, Webmonkey has collaborated with Scott Fegette, a technical product manager for Dreamweaver and BrowserLab.

So, take it away, Scott.
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File Under: Browsers, Software

Page Speed Add-on Headed to Chrome

One of the most useful browser extensions for web development is coming to Chrome.

Google is working on a Chrome version of its Page Speed add-on. Page Speed is an essential tool for testing sites in Firefox. It breaks down all the stuff on your page and shows you how long everything is taking to download, execute and render. It’s also fully open source and it has its own SDK.

Matthew D. Steele, one of the key engineers at Google responsible for Page Speed, has confirmed that a Chrome version is “already in the works,” and will be ready within a couple of months.

Page Speed currently runs inside of Firebug on Firefox, and there is already Firebug Lite for Chrome. There’s no word yet on whether Page Speed will remain dependent on Firebug (Lite) once it moves into Chrome, or if it will be a stand-alone add-on, but we’ll find out more details soon. In the meantime, if you have an answer to that mystery, let us know in the comments.

If you are curious about using Page Speed to speed up your website, check out Scott’s recent post on using Page Speed and YSlow together.

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File Under: Software, Web Apps

Meet WebMatrix, Microsoft’s New Suite For Painless Web Development

Microsoft has unveiled a new all-in-one web development suite called WebMatrix.

It’s more than an IDE or a framework, it’s a whole suite — a web server, a SQL database, and a database-ready framework, all wrapped up into a single development environment that makes it easy to build, test and deploy some fairly complex web apps.

WebMatrix is free, and it’s available for Windows users as a beta download.

The new suite is especially geared towards developers building web apps that require local data storage. It’s pretty flexible, and you can also use it to build simple websites, then scale up to something mid-weight or incorporate a full-scale app that you could run a business on top of.

The WebMatrix suite is made up of three components: the lightweight Windows-based web server called IIS Express, SQL Server Compact Edition, a simple database server, and Razor, a new templating language based on ASP.NET. The beta version you can download today actually doesn’t have Razor, but it will be included in a future release “later this month,” according to Microsoft.

The three key technologies were previously announced by Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s VP of its Developer Division. Now, with the launch of WebMatrix, Guthrie has introduced a few new components.

Continue Reading “Meet WebMatrix, Microsoft’s New Suite For Painless Web Development” »

File Under: Browsers, Social, Software

New Flock Is Simpler, Now Based on Chrome

The all-new beta of the Flock browser is based on the same code as Google Chrome. The company ditched Firefox in favor of Chromium in this new version.

The social web browser Flock is undergoing a major change in its next release. The upcoming Flock 3.0 will move away from the Firefox backend Flock has used for years in favor of Chromium, the open source implementation of Google Chrome.

If you’d like to test a beta version of the new Flock browser, head over to Flock beta page and grab a copy. For now the new Chromium-based Flock is available for Windows 7, XP and Vista only. A Mac version is reportedly in the works.

Flock is a browser built for social web junkies. It helps you manage your identity across multiple social websites, and it brings status updates and posting widgets directly into the browser via sidebars. Ever since the browser was first introduced in 2006, it’s been based on Firefox’s open source browser code, so this new version is a drastic change of plans. Flock is a niche browser — its user base is minuscule compared to the web at large — but those who do use it are dedicated and passionate about it.

The new Flock has been radically simplified, eliminating support for all but the biggest social networks and media sharing sites, namely Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Sorry MySpace, you’re just not part of the social web anymore (at least according to Flock).

The Flock 3.0 beta is a totally different browser than its predecessors — about the only thing that’s the same is the name. As you would expect, Flock now looks like Google Chrome, with tabs on top and the familiar, all-in-one URL and search bar. Flock has added some of the tools from older versions, rebuilding them on top of the new Chrome foundation, namely the social networking account manager and a sidebar that displays all your friends’ updates and lets you post your own status updates.

The sidebar looks similar to previous versions, though there are some new filters. You can narrow your Twitter updates to show only mentions or direct messages, and curb Facebook noise by eliminating wall posts, pokes, event invites or whatever. Just about every type of notification can be toggled on or off for any of the supported services.

Manage your groups in Flock's sidebar.

Perhaps the most useful addition to Flock 3.0 is the ability to create groups of friends to filter and manage your incoming updates. Out of the box, Flock offers two groups — Best Friends and Co-workers — though you can customize and create your own groups as well. Once you’ve got your groups set up, Flock makes it very simple to switch between seeing what your friends are up to, what’s going on with your work colleagues, your family, and so on. For those with hundreds of contacts and friends spread across multiple sites, and for those who apply different social standards when interacting with people from different parts of their life, this will likely be Flock 3.0′s killer feature.

Another very useful new feature is the integrated search field in the URL bar. Flock has changed the way Chromium’s URL search bar works to include your friend’s Twitter posts, Facebook updates, Flickr images and YouTube video in your searches. It makes easy to find out what your friends have said about whatever you’re searching for.

We’ve been using Flock for several years now and have to admit that we’ve never quite been able to figure our where it fits into our daily browsing tasks. Previous versions were sluggish, and the amount of setup required to interact with a bunch of different websites was overwhelming. Also, it’s an open secret that there was little Flock could do that you couldn’t accomplish by installing a few good add-ons to vanilla Firefox.

By contrast, the new Flock is a svelte, speedy browser. It immediately feels more relevant and fresh. And, in narrowing its support to only the most popular social sites, Flock is less daunting for newcomers. Getting started is in fact incredibly elegant — the browser launches with a screen that asks you to set up a Flock account, but you can skip it and just start surfing. As you log in to social sites like Twitter and Facebook, Flock begins filling out the social sidebar with updates from your friends on those sites mere seconds after you’ve logged in.

That said, you long-time Flock users may be unhappy with the new version — particularly if you rely on any Flock-compatible Firefox add-ons or use any of the many sites Flock no longer supports. While Flock 3.0 should work with any Chrome extensions, Chrome extensions do not have quite the same range of function as those in Firefox.

If you’d like to give the new Flock a try, head over the beta download page and grab a copy. Keep in mind that Flock 3.0 is still a beta and may have some bugs. If you’re on a Mac, there’s a mailing list you can sign up for to be notified when a Mac version is available.

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File Under: Multimedia, Software

Adobe Flash Player 10.1 Arrives

After spending many months on development and beta testing, Adobe has released the latest version of its Flash Player.

You can download Flash Player 10.1 for Mac, Windows and Linux at Adobe’s website. You’ll need to shut down all of your browsers while it installs. There’s a version of Flash Player 10.1 coming for Android, but it won’t be ready until later this summer. A beta version is available in the Android Marketplace if you want to test it out.

This release is significant for a number of reasons. Most of all, the underlying code has been largely re-written to address the platform’s key shortcomings. Anyone who follows the news knows Flash Player has been roundly criticized lately for its performance problems, its battery-sucking tendencies and its security issues. There’s no Flash allowed on iPads and iPhones for these reasons, and Apple (along with others like Mozilla and Opera) is calling for an end to the plug-in’s dominance as a video delivery mechanism on the web.

Microsoft’s competing Silverlight plug-in for video is winning hearts and minds, reaching 60% penetration on web-connected PCs this spring. Adobe says over 95% of web-connected PCs have Flash Player installed.

Persons of great influence are turning their backs on Flash, but Adobe is hoping this update will spark an attitude change. It has rolled in dozens of improvements which directly address the issues of performance, security and power consumption.

As we first saw in the beta release, the runtime has been re-written to consume less system memory, and Flash Player will automatically shut off if it detects that memory is running low. It can also prioritize the amount of processing power being used by each instance of Flash Player that’s running. So if you have several browser tabs open with Flash content displayed in each tab, the movie you’re watching right now will stay running at full power while the idle instances are dialed back or shut off.

These enhancements should prevent nasty problems like Flash Player causing your browser to crash or your entire OS to freeze, which is usually the result of more Flash than your computer can handle at once — something netbook owners know all too well. Mac users will also notice a significant improvement, as the Flash team says it has paid particular attention to Mac OS X and Safari issues in this release.

On the security front, the new Flash Player will fully honor the rules of your browser’s private browsing mode by not caching any data on the local system while private browsing is enabled.

There are a raft of video improvements — we get hardware-accelerated H.264 video decoding, better HTTP streaming that supports dynamic bitrates for live video streams, and support for peer-assisted video streams (aka “Multicasting”). There’s also a new buffering system, so you can pause, rewind and fast-forward streaming video just like you’re watching it on a DVR (as long as the provider is allowing for it).

There’s no mention here of support for the new WebM video format, which Google, Opera and Mozilla launched last month to serve as an open alternative to H.264. But Adobe has pledged support for WebM in Flash Player, so hopefully we’ll see it sooner rather than later.

However, Flash Player 10.1 does support multi-touch input surfaces, one of Steve Jobs’ sticking points in his “Thoughts on Flash” essay about why Apple isn’t supporting the technology. Multi-touch capability isn’t likely to change Apple’s mind about inviting Flash to the table, but this feature will be a huge boon to those Android tablets that are supposed to be showing up any day now to kill the iPad.

This is obviously a huge release for Adobe, as it comes at a time when the company is under attack for its platform’s pitfalls. So, why the weak-sounding 10.1 numbering, which gives the impression that it’s just an incremental upgrade? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had called it Flash Player 11 since there’s so much new here?

We can save the “This Flash Goes to 11″ headline for the next time around.

Another bit of Adobe software got an update today: AIR. We’ll have more on that later.

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