Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

File Under: Browsers, Software

Review: New Features Bring Safari 5 Up to Speed

Apple released an update to its Safari web browser Monday afternoon. We’ve been testing it for close to a full day, and we’ve found that Safari 5 performs as advertised: It’s faster, more capable and well worth the upgrade.

Safari 5 was launched rather quietly at the end of the first day of the 2010 Worldwide Developer Conference, an event that was dominated by Steve Jobs’ debut of the next iPhone and the new iOS. Safari wasn’t discussed during the morning keynote, but an announcement was made later that afternoon at a web-developer session.

You can download Safari 5 on Apple’s site. Both Mac OS X (Leopard or better) and Windows (XP and up) versions are available.

First up is the speed boost, which is definitely noticeable in GMail, Facebook, our WordPress admin and other sites with lots of “stuff” going on, like Huffington Post. This is thanks to Safari 5′s new Nitro JavaScript engine. This is the same piece of engineering previously named SquirrelFish (we kind of wish they’d kept that name), that powers JavaScript rendering on top of Safari’s WebKit engine. It gives a small bump to page-load times, but the real improvements are seen in page performance. The complex web apps we tested perform with close to zero latency, about as fast as Google Chrome, the most nimble of the major browsers.

For faster page loads, Safari 5 is implementing DNS pre-fetching. Basically, the browser looks at all the links on the page you’re currently on and fetches the IP addresses of all the linked sites and page assets, preparing itself to make the jump more quickly as soon as you click on a link and begin loading another page. All of this happens in the background. Google Chrome and Firefox do this, too.

There’s added support for various pieces of the HTML5 stack in Safari 5, as well as more support for CSS 3 and other technologies powering modern web apps. According to Apple’s overview page, Safari 5 supports geolocation, sectioning elements, drag and drop, HTML5 form validation, Ruby, AJAX History, EventSource and WebSocket. We can’t tell which version of WebSocket is being supported — typing javascript:alert('WebSocket' in window) into the URL bar just tells us “True,” but nothing else.

At any rate, all of these new features are great to see, as Firefox, Chrome and Opera have supported most or all of these APIs and technologies for a while, and IE9 will support most of them. It also washes away some of the bitter aftertaste left by last week’s PR mess around HTML5 support.

There’s also support for full-screen playback of H.264 videos, and for subtitles — the screenshot at the top shows YouTube’s H.264 player. Apple is touting this as HTML5 video support, but we’d like to point out that while H.264 does make up the bulk of online video, HTML5 doesn’t require videos be H.264. All the other major browsers are backing the new, open source WebM format for video, which we’ve urged Apple to support as well.

One of the most talked-about new features is Safari Reader. A small gray “Reader” button now appears in the URL bar when you land on a news website or blog. Click it, and Safari strips out all of the clutter on the page (ads, widgets, sidebars, headers and footers) and presents just the text in a large typeface, cleanly formatted in a white window that floats, lightbox-style, over a darkened page. It also strings multipage articles together in the same window automatically. It’s intriguing to speculate about how Reader, if widely adopted, will change website-design principles by encouraging cleaner, more readable layouts. Scott Gilbertson explores this idea in detail in his in-depth look at Safari Reader here on Webmonkey.

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File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Software

Apple (Almost) Releases Safari 5

A press release with details about Safari 5 was leaked on the web Monday afternoon, then promptly removed.

Many were expecting Apple to release a new version of its Safari web browser during the Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) taking place this week. But the Monday morning keynote was all about the new iPhone. Safari wasn’t discussed.

Then, at about 3:30pm Pacific time, a press release went out over the PRNewsWire service. It was live for a short time — under 10 minutes — before it vanished. The link now returns an error. Apple has yet to update the Safari pages of its website or make any additional announcements. We’re guessing the news item was released mistakenly or prematurely.

Update @ 4:30pm: The release is now available on the Apple website, though the Safari pages still haven’t been updated.

It was live long enough for us to grab a copy, and you can read the full release below. Here are some details.

There’s an extensions framework now. By description alone, Safari Extensions appears to be similar to the lightweight extensions frameworks used by Google Chrome and Mozilla’s Jetpack for Firefox — extensions are written in HTML/JavaScript, installed on the fly, and sandboxed.

There’s also Reader, a built-in app that strips ads, images and other clutter out of the way, presenting news articles and longer reads in a simplified, scrolling, text-only window “without distraction.” Instapaper and Readability, it appears as though Apple is drinking your milkshake.

According to the release, the updated browser will include expanded support for the HTML5 stack, including geolocation, sectioning elements, drag and drop, form validation, Ajax history and WebSocket. There’s also “full screen playback and closed captions for HTML5 video” — though we should note that Apple currently only supports native playback of h.264 video and not WebM, which all other major browsers are backing. No further details there.

Safari 5 uses the new Nitro JavaScript engine, which Apple says is 30 percent faster than Safari 4′s engine. You also get the ability to choose Bing as your search provider (just like in the iPhone 4 demo).

Full release follows:

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Firefox 3.6.4 Isolates Flash for a More Stable Browser

Mozilla has announced the first, and hopefully only, release candidate of Firefox 3.6.4, an incremental update which adds one significant new feature to Firefox 3.6 — plug-ins now run in separate processes. That means if Flash crashes, it won’t cause the entire browser to crash with it.

To give the new beta a try, head on over to the Firefox beta downloads page. If you’ve subscribed the beta channel in the past you’ll automatically get the update, or you can force Firefox to update using the “Check for Updates” menu item.

The new feature is known as “out-of-process” handling, and promises to make Firefox considerably more stable. Eventually, Mozilla plans to have each tab isolated in its own process as well, which will also increase stability. Once that feature is there, each web app would be cordoned off inside its own tab, so if one crashes, that single tab simply closes and the rest of the browser keeps cooking along as usual. Isolated tabs won’t arrive until Firefox 4, which is slated for later this year.

Isolated plug-ins and tabs are among the best things about Google Chrome. It’s had isolated tabs since its debut, and isolated plug-in handling arrived at the same time as Chrome Extensions.

With the release candidate available, look for the final version of Firefox 3.6.4 to ship in the next couple of weeks. If you just can’t wait, or would like to help test the latest build, head over to the Firefox beta download site. (Note that the build is still labeled “build 6,” but according to the post on the Mozilla Developer Network, this is the release candidate.)

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File Under: Software, Visual Design

Photoshop Contemplates Adding Live HTML Layers

Adobe’s Principal Product Manager of Photoshop, John Nack has posted an idea for a new Photoshop feature on his blog. Nack’s idea is to create a way of rendering HTML and CSS within Photoshop. This means visual designers could work with “live” HTML objects as they’re building websites within a team of programmers, easing the workflow between the designing and coding stages.

Before you get to excited (or disappointed) keep in mind that isn’t a feature, isn’t even part of a plan, it’s simply and idea that Nack would like feedback on.

Nack describes the idea (and workflow) like this: a designer creates a mockup, which he hands off to a programmer. The programmer then renders the mockup in HTML/CSS, at which point he could hand it back to the designer who can open it in Photoshop as a kind of live layer. Resizing and other layer actions would cause the code to respond according to how the programmer has written the code.

What Nack is envisioning is a smart layer that uses WebKit (already part of the Creative Suite) to render what he calls “programmable layers.”

Among the benefits Nack sees are “[live] pixel-accurate web rendering (text and shapes); the ability to style objects via CSS parameters (enabling effects like dotted lines); data-driven 2D and 3D graphics; and high fidelity web output (HTML as HTML).”

The real world example Nack uses is a calendar widget, but that particular example raises an interesting question — what about scripting languages? We don’t know of anyone who writes out calendar code in HTML, that would be insane to update. So if you’re generating the calendar with, say, PHP, where does the script rendering happen?

So far, the comments appear pretty evenly divided between those who think such a feature would be great and those think that either it’s just more bloat in Photoshop, or that Fireworks would be a better home for the idea.

If you’ve got strong opinions one way or the other, head over to Nack’s blog and let him know what you think, either in the comments or by completing this survey.

Just remember that this is not part of a roadmap and may well never happen. In the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic.”

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File Under: Browsers, Software

The Best Chrome Add-ons for Web Developers

We love Google Chrome — it’s blazing fast and supports most of HTML5 and CSS 3. But when it comes to using a browser for web development tasks, it’s hard to beat Firefox. With add-ons like Firebug or the Web Developer extension, Mozilla’s browser is still the tool of choice for tweaking and testing pages.

If you’ve been looking for Chrome-based replacements — a better way to inspect code, test alternate resolutions, or quickly check a page’s validation status — the Chrome team has a new Chrome Developer Tools page with some very useful add-ons for web developers.

Sadly, there is no equivalent for Firebug (even the “light” version is no replacement for the real deal), but there are a number of great developer add-ons for Chrome that we hadn’t noticed before.

Speed Tracer is a decent substitute for Yahoo’s YSlow add-on for Firefox. Speed Tracer helps identify and suggest fixes for performance issues. The Web Developer extension (written by Chris Pederick, the same person who did the Firefox version) gives you quick access to validators and offers page resizing and a CSS elements viewer.

Other nice extensions include Chrome Editor, which allows you to make live edits without needing to jump between your text editor and web browser. There’s also, JSonView, which lets you see JSON data, and PHP Documentation, which gives you quick access to PHP’s extensive documentation.

If you’re a heavy Firebug user, there’s nothing here that’s going to convince you to switch from Firefox to Chrome for web development. But if you’ve already made the switch and are looking for some additional web development tools this collection of Chrome add-ons has you covered.

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