Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

File Under: Software, Web Apps

Google Reader Dumps Offline Access, Old Browsers

Google Reader is losing some features. As of June 1, Reader will no longer offer offline access and users of older browsers will see a notice suggesting they upgrade to a newer browser with support for current web standards.

The browser support change isn’t all that surprising; Google Docs made a similar change earlier this year. The main target of the policy change is Internet Explorer 6. But lest you think Google Reader is picking on Microsoft, the announcement also targets the company’s own Chrome 3, which is barely six months old.

Other browsers no longer supported include Firefox 1 and 2.0, and Safari 2.0 and 3.0.

According Mihai Parparita, a technical lead for Google Reader, the new browser requirements will enable Google Reader to spend more time on new features. “Reader is a cutting-edge web application, and this will allow us to spend our time improving Reader instead of fixing issues with antiquated browsers,” he writes on the official Reader blog.

Older web browsers aren’t the only thing Reader is leaving behind. Also like Google Docs, Reader will be ditching the Gears-powered offline support (launched back in 2007). However, unlike Google Docs, Reader won’t be replacing Gears with HTML5-based offline tools. With Reader, Google is simply dropping offline support for the time being.

Instead, the Google Reader blog suggests downloading desktop software that syncs to Reader and downloads your items. While that’s certainly one way to sync feeds and read them offline, the main point of the orginal offline support was that it worked in the browser without the need for extra desktop apps.

The Reader team claims that only a small percentage of users ever took advantage of the offline support. But for those that did, there’s really no substitute.

The good news is that the Reader team claims this bit of “Spring cleaning” will pave the way for new features and improvements in Google Reader. Without the need to support older browsers, Reader will presumably be able to take advantage of things like HTML5 and CSS 3, though so far Google has given no hints as to what any new features might entail.

In the meantime, you’ll have to switch to a syncing app if you want to read Google Reader items without a web connection. Some of the more popular ones for the iPhone/iPod are Feeds, Byline and Reeder. For the desktop, there’s FeedDemon, NetNewsWire and RSS Bandit. For Android, we like NewsRob and Feedr. Let us know about your favorite in the comments.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Weave Update Offers More Speed, New Name

firefoxsync1Mozilla is rebranding its Weave Sync feature, which keeps your bookmarks, history and other Firefox data in sync across computers. As of version 1.3, Weave will be now be known as Firefox Sync.

The name change is intended to help less tech-savvy users understand what Weave does — namely, sync Firefox.

However, because Weave also works (somewhat) with SeaMonkey and Thunderbird, the name Firefox Sync may end up confusing some users. So far no word on whether there will be a Thunderbird Sync or SeaMonkey Sync.

Firefox developer Tony Chung announced the name change and the release of Firefox Sync version 1.3 (still in beta) on his blog.

The new version of the add-on isn’t just a rebranding, there are also quite a few new features coming to the add-on formerly know as Weave. The new Firefox Sync 1.3 features a new user interface, better response times during syncing, a backup feature for your bookmarks before the first sync and better support for Fennec, the mobile version of Firefox. Complete release notes with all of the changes in this version can be found on the Mozilla site.

Chung says that a final version of Firefox Sync will available later this month, though don’t expect to see the rebranded add-on joining Firefox proper for some time. According to Chung, the version of Weave that currently ships with Firefox 3.6 won’t be updated until the new Firefox Sync hits 2.0 (we assume it will probably do so before Firefox 4.0 ships later this year).

In the mean time if you’d like to test out the latest version of Firefox Sync, head over to the Mozilla Labs page (which still refers to the add-on as Weave) and look for the link to the “experimental” version in the green bar. As always, we recommend upgrading all instances of Firefox Sync before actually syncing your data.

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File Under: HTML5, Software

Adobe Adds HTML5 Creation Tools to Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver CS5

SAN FRANCISCO — Adobe will begin shipping a package of HTML5 web design tools for Dreamweaver, the company says.

The HTML5 Pack for Dreamweaver will available for download on Adobe Labs some time on Wednesday. It will be a free download for anyone who owns Dreamweaver Creative Suite 5, and Adobe will roll it into an automatic update for Dreamweaver once the add-on pack has been thoroughly tested.

The add-on pack gives Dreamweaver CS5 the ability to provide code hints for HTML5 elements and CSS3 styles when building pages in the text-based Code View window. Adobe is also adding a few starter layouts for people building HTML5 pages from scratch. More layouts will be added later.

Dreamweaver’s Live View mode — which uses the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari and the Android browser to preview web pages — is also getting an update. The Live View window will now be able to render pages built with HTML5 and CSS3, so developers coding native video and audio playback to their pages will be able to preview those pages in Dreamweaver.

The announcement was made during the Google I/O, the developer conference taking place here this week. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch spoke as part of the morning keynote at I/O. Lynch hinted at this release earlier in May when he appeared at the Web 2.0 Expo developer conference and announced that Adobe would soon be shipping more tools for HTML5 content creation.

The release comes soon after Apple began encouraging developers to create web apps in HTML5 rather than rely on Adobe’s Flash Player to deliver videos, audio clips and animations. Apple’s iPad and iPhone famously don’t support Flash, so Adobe’s push towards giving designers new tools for building HTML5 web apps will help the company maintain its foothold on a web where Flash is becoming less attractive.

Dreamweaver Creative Suite 5 was released this spring. But it’s one of the oldest WYSIWYG web editors out there, and any web developer with knowledge of HTML5 and CSS3 has had the ability to use Dreamweaver’s Code View to build pages using the emerging standards for years. These new tools make the workflow easier though, allowing developers to take advantage of Dreamweaver’s helpful code hinting and to preview changes right inside the app, instead of uploading the files to the web to view their changes in a browser.

Lynch demonstrated a couple of other things, too. He showed how you can make a rich advertisement in Dreamweaver using CSS3 transforms and HTML5 animations. This will be especially handy for anyone wanting to create an ad for Apple’s iAd platform, which will be totally HTML5-based.

Also added to Dreamweaver in the HTML5 pack is a tool that lets you see what your pages will look like on multiple devices with different size screens all at once. It’s a preview pane with several windows — one for a desktop browser, one for mobiles, one for a tablet and so on. The preview tool uses dynamic stylesheet swapping, so you see your layout change instantly based on which device you’re viewing it on.

Of course, that’s extremely useful for anyone creating a website that’s going to be deployed on mobiles and iPads. Oh yes, and Android tablets — whenever they show up.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

First Look: Firefox 4 Preview Delivers Speed, Revamped Interface

firefox4

A new version of Firefox is due before the end of 2010, and while the finished product is still a long way off, beta code is expected to ship as early as late June. Mozilla’s product director Mike Beltzner recently posted his team’s vision of what Firefox 4 will look like, highlighting new features and a new look.

Indeed some of the more important changes coming in Firefox 4 are already available in Firefox nightly builds. We downloaded the latest nightly build (which is still called Firefox 3.7 for the time being, but will be renamed when it reaches beta) and tested it out. So what’s in store for Firefox 4?

The short answer is that the new Firefox 4 is going to look more like Google Chrome. While we’re not suggesting Mozilla is ripping off Chrome, it’s hard to ignore a good idea when you see one, and Firefox 4 has seen several good ideas in Chrome.

Firefox's new add-on manager is rather Chrome-like. (Click for larger)

Firefox's new add-on manager is rather Chrome-like. (Click for larger)

One of the most obvious changes in the current Minefield, as Firefox nightly builds are known, is the new Add-ons manager (see the embedded image), which, instead of opening a new window or panel as the current version does, now appears as an inline page called “about:addons.” This is very much like Chrome’s “Extensions” page.

Firefox 4′s revamped add-ons page also has some new features, like support for Personas (simple Firefox themes) and Jetpacks, browser extensions built with Firefox’s new add-on framework. The new Jetpack add-on system lets developers write extensions for the browser using web standards that install without a restart. Jetpacks resemble what you’ll find in Google Chrome, which also utilizes a framework for lightweight extensions written in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

A recently proposed redesign for Firefox 4 puts tabs above the URL bar, also very Chrome-like. The “tabs on top” change is not yet available by default in Minefield builds (you have to go into the “View” menu and select it as an option), and it’s possible the idea will be abandoned before it reaches the final browser design. Either way, Firefox users will have the option of which design they want to use.

However striking the similarities, Firefox 4′s resemblance to Chrome is only skin deep. Under the hood, Firefox 4 is a radically different beast, both from Chrome and from its Firefox predecessors.

The biggest change is the all new HTML parser. It replaces the existing Gecko parser, which dates from 1998. The HTML parser is the last remaining unchanged chunk of Gecko, the underlying engine that powers Firefox. The revamp promises to make Firefox faster and, perhaps more importantly, compliant with the emerging HTML5 standard.

Other new features to expect in Firefox 4: speed improvements in page rendering times — already noticeable in the Minefield build — as well as the ability to use SVG and MathML inline in HTML5 pages. There are also huge speed boosts for innerHTML calls (common on JavaScript-heavy pages) and fixes for dozens of long-standing parser bugs.

For the full details on what the new parser means for the Gecko project, along with Firefox, be sure to read project lead Henri Sivonen’s post on the Mozilla hacks blog.

It’s important to remember that, while Firefox nightly builds do offer a glimpse of what’s coming, many of Mozilla’s plans (and certainly the UI designs) are still in flux. It’s possible that a great deal of this stuff will change before the final code ships.

We don’t recommend using Firefox nightlies as your primary browser. There are bugs, and it will crash. However, if you’d like to help Mozilla find and squash bugs, head over the nightly builds page and grab the latest version.

If using bleeding-edge, pre-release technology isn’t your thing, fear not. Mozilla estimates the first beta builds of Firefox 4 will be available in June 2010.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

New IE9 Preview Features More Speed, Standards Support

Microsoft has released the first update to its Internet Explorer 9 preview. The latest release brings some speed improvements, more standards support, and more hardware acceleration for the browser’s HTML5 features.

To take the new IE9 for a spin, head over to Microsoft’s IETestDrive site and download a copy today. We’ve been testing it for a few hours, and here’s what we’ve noticed.

The best news in this release is that IE9 has already made some significant speed improvements since the first developer preview earlier this year. For example, IE 9 is now on par with Safari, Google Chrome and Opera on the Sunspider JavaScript test, which attempts to measure how a browser will perform on JavaScript-heavy sites like Gmail and Facebook.

Although IE9 is still not the fastest browser when it comes to rendering JavaScript, the difference between it and the competition is small enough that you’re unlikely to notice any difference on real world sites.

Complex diagrams laid out in CSS -- and they actually render the same in several browsers, including the new IE9. Part of the Microsoft's IE9 demo site at ietestdrive.com.

Complex diagrams laid out in CSS -- and they actually render the same in several browsers. Part of the Microsoft's IE9 demo site at ietestdrive.com.

What might be even more encouraging about this release for web developers is Microsoft’s emphasis on ensuring that markup works the same across browsers. Microsoft’s general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch, writes on the IE Blog: “web browsers should render the same markup — the same HTML, same CSS, and same script — the same way… that’s simply not the case today.”

And yes, Hachamovitch does note that IE6 is the main reason that’s true (to which we would also add IE7). But he’s also correct in noting that because HTML5 and CSS 3 support varies by browser, it’s tough to use HTML5 elements or style them with CSS 3 and have your markup behave the same across all platforms and browser.

What works in WebKit browser sometimes fails in Firefox, and vice versa. For CSS 3, developers often need to resort to -webkit or -moz prefixes for newer features.

But while those are annoyances to be sure, they pale next to the real difficulty of cross browser support for new features — legacy IE browsers.

IE9 will improve the situation with support for the HTML5 video tag (though not yet, support for video is slated for the next developer preview), but it will still fall short of matching the HTML5 features in its competitors. Take the Canvas tag, for instance. While IE9 has made strides with SVG support (partly related to Canvas), it still doesn’t support the actual HTML5 Canvas tag. Gecko and WebKit have had support for Canvas for over three years now.

Hachamovitch touts IE9′s JavaScript improvements, which are welcome — for example IE9 will now support DOMContentLoaded, getElementsByClassName, createDocument, and more — but again, for the most part these are things other browsers can already do.

If you want to see IE9 blazing a trail instead of catching up to the pack you’ll need to look at the hardware acceleration features, which rely on DirectX for faster rendering. Mozilla is planning to add hardware acceleration to Firefox, but so far this is one area where IE9 bests the competition.

While the latest developer preview of IE9 leaves much to be desired, it is still a work in progress. IE 9 is already undeniably a much better browser than its predecessors — it’s faster, renders pages according to standards, supports (some) HTML5 and, given the number of people that rely on IE, will help move the web forward.

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