Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Firefox for Android: Better Privacy, More Device Support

Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

To go along with the desktop release of Firefox 20, Mozilla has updated Firefox for Android.

The latest version of Firefox for Android is available in the Google Play Store.

Like its desktop cousin, Firefox for Android features a new per-window private browsing mode, which makes it easier to log in to two separate accounts for the same service at the same time — think Gmail for home and work, or personal and work Twitter accounts.

In addition to the new features found in the desktop release, Firefox 20 for Android offers a number of small fixes that improve the mobile interface. For example, the virtual keyboard no longer automatically comes up when you view your bookmarks, making it possible to see more of your actual bookmarks (if you tap the search field, then the keyboard will come up). The Top Sites list in your about:home page is now customizable.

Less welcome, the ‘Quit’ menu item has been removed from Firefox versions running on Ice Cream Sandwich and higher. That’s in keeping with Android platform conventions, but if you used the Quit menu regularly, it’s annoying. Fortunately the QuitNow add-on more or less covers the same ground.

Mozilla also continues to bring features to older versions of Android, adding support for H.264 video and AAC/MP3 audio hardware decoders to phones running Gingerbread and Honeycomb.

For more details on everything that’s new in Firefox 20 for Android, be sure to check out Mozilla’s release notes.

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It’s Not Just Reader: Google Kills Chrome RSS Add-On Too

The great Google+ eclipse continues. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Last week Google announced it is shutting down its popular — but apparently not popular enough — RSS reader, Google Reader. In what looks like a broader move away from RSS, the company has also killed off its RSS extension for Chrome, and marked a longstanding bug requesting that the extension become a native part of Chrome as “Won’t Fix.”

Add it all up and it certainly looks like Google wants to not just shut down an unprofitable service, but to kill off its support for RSS entirely.

RSS is an open format that offers an easy way to keep track of news and get updates from your favorite sites without having to visit two dozen different web pages everyday. While it never gained much traction with mainstream audiences, RSS remains popular with news junkies and is an integral part of the web, providing the “glue” behind many popular news apps like Flipboard or Pulse.

Google’s RSS extension for Chrome made it easy to discover and subscribe to RSS feeds by displaying an icon in the URL bar of any page that offered a feed. Clicking the icon would then give users a variety of ways to subscribe to the feed — one of which was Google Reader.

Fortunately there are several alternatives for those previously relying on Google’s homegrown RSS extension. Google Operating System’s Alex Chitu points readers to two possible replacements, one of which appears to be a fork of the original add-on.

Is the disappearing Chrome extension, closed bug report and end of life for Google Reader all part of a conspiracy to kill off Google’s support for RSS? Possibly.

But if you follow the discussion around the bug/request for RSS in Chrome it’s clear that there was never any support for the idea with in Google. Closing the bug was most likely a bit of house cleaning.

It’s also possible that the RSS extension was removed from the Chrome Web Store simply because it would potentially drive traffic to the soon-to-be-closed Google Reader.

That said, it’s clear Google has no love for RSS and apparently no love for other open web tools, like the CalDav format, which was also dropped as part of the company’s Spring cleaning. Instead Google is encouraging developers to use Google Calendar’s proprietary sync tools (there is a whitelist you can apply for if “the Calendar API won’t work for you” ).

Trying to move users from RSS to Google+ and from CalDav to Google Calendar may not be part of any vast conspiracy, but you don’t need a tinfoil hat to recognize that the days of Google as a champion of open web technologies are over.

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The Web of the Future Wants to Hear What You Have to Say

Please speak slowly and clearly. Image: Vikramdeep Sidhu/Flickr

Earlier this year Google’s Chrome web browser added preliminary support for voice commands, opening the door to a voice-driven future where you can browse the web, send an e-mail or post to Twitter all without touching a mouse, trackpad or screen.

Naturally there’s a considerable way to go before this vision of a voice-driven web browser is a reality, but if you’d like to see one early experiment check out developer Jordan Moore’s voice driven demo page.

Moore’s page uses voice input to control things like font size, page color and line-height. Try saying “Make it darker,” “Make the text larger” or, for some scrolling Comic Sans, “Clown Mode”.

You’ll need the latest version of Chrome to see the demo in action since that’s the only browser that currently supports Google’s proposed Web Speech API. You’ll also need to click the microphone icon at the top of the page to activate voice input. As Moore notes, you currently “can’t bind an input to the speech input field.” That’s probably a good idea for security/privacy reasons, but it does detract somewhat from the vision of a purely voice-powered web.

Moore’s demo is creative and fun to play with and it hints at a voice-controlled web of the future, but it also showcases just how far away that future remains.

While Google’s voice transcriber (which converts your speech to text behind the scenes) is fast, it’s still not very good. It struggled with many of my deliberate, slowly spoken commands — struggled enough in fact that I doubt it would work at all for anyone with a strong accent, let alone non-native speakers. (Moore says it was “incredibly difficult to test voice commands with a Northern Irish accent.”)

Moore is the first to admit that voice-driven apps like his experiment aren’t ready for prime time. “I’m not sure of the practicality of this experiment right now,” he writes. “But I can see voice commands becoming a bigger part of what we do in the near future.”

As Moore notes, now is the time for experimentation. It’s a time for developers to try out new ideas and discover how voice commands might fit with and perhaps even rearrange the web as we know it. “Let’s think of the possibilities and other situations this might apply to,” Moore suggests, “We can have a bit of fun with this.”

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Twitter’s New Logo Inspires Parodies, CSS Greatness

In case you’ve been too busy using third-party apps to notice, Twitter recently unveiled a new logo.

From now on, proclaims the Twitter blog, “this bird will be the universally recognizable symbol of Twitter.” At least they aren’t being too over the top about it.

Ridiculous proclamations aside, we rather like the new bird and we like it even more when rendered in pure CSS, which is exactly what the developers at Upperdog, a design agency in Stockholm, have done. View source to see how it works. It’s an impressive exercise in CSS, but of course since it will only work in the latest browsers, you’re probably better off sticking with Twitter’s official graphics for real-world use (or an icon font version).

Twitter has some rather strict new rules they’d like you to abide by when it comes to the new logo. For example, you shall not “use speech bubbles or words around the bird” nor shall you do anything fun like animate the bird. There are some half a dozen other “thou shall nots” surrounding the new logo, all of which are virtually unenforceable rules that won’t endear the company to anyone but lawyers.

Perhaps Twitter just forgot that this is the internet. Whatever the case, there are, as you would expect, no shortage of sites and images mocking Twitter’s rather draconian new guidelines, including our favorite, ViolateTwitterBrandGuidelines which will help you willfully violate all of Twitter’s rules. There are also quite a few logo parodies popping up including this awesome (rotated, tsk tsk) Batman version.

Theoretically it should be possible to create the Batman version of the Twitter logo in pure CSS, which we’d really love to see. The first person to do so will win the internet (and a Webmonkey baseball cap if you email us).

[Update: I’ve got two submissions of a pure CSS Batman Twitter logo, both of which are awesome so consider that contest closed. I will send out hats ASAP. Of course you can still post links to your work and you will win the internet. For a day. Also, here’s a ton of other Twitter logo “avatars.”]

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Adobe Fixes Flash Privacy Panel so Hackers Can’t Check You Out

Adobe has made changes to a page on an Adobe website that controls Flash user’s security settings—or more specifically, to the Flash .SWF file embedded in the page that opens the Flash website privacy settings panel. The changes are intended to prevent a clickjacking attack that uses the file to activate and access users’ webcams and microphones to spy on them.

The change comes a few days after a Stanford student revealed the vulnerability on his website. Feross Aboukhadijeh posted the exploit, along with a demo and a video demonstration, on October 18. He said in a blog post that he had notified Adobe weeks earlier of the problem, reporting the vulnerability to Adobe through the Stanford Security lab.

The exploit demonstrated by Aboukhadijeh uses an elaborate clickjack “game” that overlays the SWF panel over buttons in a transparent iframe. Here’s a screenshot of the panel before Adobe’s changes:

Through a series of clicks, the exploit was able to clear the privacy settings for Flash’s web camera controls and then authorize a new site to activate and access the camera video.The changes did not prompt any pop-ups or other user notifications.

The changes made by Adobe are to the behavior of the widgets in the privacy settings panel. Here’s a screenshot of the new panel, after the exploit was attempted:

While my test of the exploit still added to my list of sites in the privacy panel, it was only successfully added with an “always ask” setting for establishing a video link.

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

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