Archive for the ‘Web Apps’ Category

File Under: Browsers, Web Apps

Google Shows Off Chrome OS, Along With a Store to Fill it Up

SAN FRANCISCO, California — Google unveiled a beta version of its Chrome OS Tuesday morning.

The company showed off the operating system, which has been in development for over a year, during a press event here. Also making an appearance at Tuesday’s event was the Chrome Web Store, which we expected to see launch today. If you’re using the Chrome browser, you can visit the store and start installing apps now.

Chrome OS, which doesn’t go into general release until next year, relies entirely on web-based applications for basic productivity tasks like mail, document editing, photo sharing, social networking and reading news. Its inner workings are based on Google’s own Chrome browser.

To get around the connectivity problem inherent to web-based apps, Google says every Chrome OS laptop will ship with both wi-fi and cellular connections. The company has partnered with Verizon — when you buy a Chrome OS laptop, you get 100MB of free data per month for two years. There are no long-term contracts. If you want to upgrade, you only pay for what you need. Chrome OS users can buy a day pass from Verizon, or choose from a few long-term plans starting at $10 per month.

Acer and Samsung Chrome OS laptops will go on sale in mid-2011, with more OEMs to follow, the company says.

In the meantime, Google is launching a pilot program to get hardware running Chrome OS into developers’ hands. Early adopters can sign up to get a black, unbranded Chrome OS notebook, codenamed “Cr-48.”

Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai held one up during the event — it’s a full-sized laptop with a 12.1″ screen, an Intel Atom processor, a world-mode 3G radio, a flash memory drive, and it has a built-in “jailbreaking” mode so you can hack it. Google is also giving away a few of the pilot laptops to its Facebook fans.

From what we’ve seen so far, Chrome OS is extremely fast (the demo we saw was running on the Cr-48 laptop) and, provided you already have a Google account, it literally takes under a minute to get up and running.

Pichai, who has been using ChromeOS for six months, continuously gushed about its speed, which was evident during the demos.

“By building an experience based totally on the web, we’ve made all of the user experiences instant,” he said.

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Mining Flickr to Build 3D Models of the World

Microsoft’s PhotoSynth tool is jaw-droppingly awesome. But, because it’s a Microsoft project, the technology is unlikely to appear on some of your favorite non-Microsoft online apps, like Google Maps or Flickr.

However, our friends at ReadWriteWeb stumbled across a very similar tool — at least in terms of the end result — developed by the University of North Carolina in conjunction with Swiss university, ETH-Zurich.

The team has developed a method for creating 3D models by pulling in millions of photographs from Flickr and using some fancy algorithms to generate 3D models of local landmarks. Perhaps even more impressive the results can be generated using a single computer in under a day.

Project lead Jan-Michael Frahm touts the project’s efficiency saying, “our technique would be the equivalent of processing a stack of photos as high as the 828-meter Dubai Towers, using a single PC, versus the next best technique, which is the equivalent of processing a stack of photos 42 meters tall — as high as the ceiling of Notre Dame — using 62 PCs. This efficiency is essential if one is to fully utilize the billions of user-provided images continuously being uploaded to the internet.”

While the results are cool and would make an impressive addition to any number of geo-based services, more serious use cases include helping disaster workers get a better idea of where they’re headed and the extent of damage.

So far the researchers have released a movies demonstrating the technique on landmarks in both Rome (get it? built in a day…) and Berlin, and the results are impressive. For more information on how the process works, check out the UNC website.

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File Under: Browsers, Web Apps

Mozilla Shows Off Plans for an Open Web App Store

Mozilla LabsMozilla has released more details about its soon-to-arrive Open Web Applications platform.

There are two key components: a directory where users can browse available web apps, and a new dashboard that will be baked into the browser interface, where users can install and manage their favorite apps.

The company published some technical documentation for developers so they can get to work retrofitting their apps with the code necessary to make them work with the new dashboard.

We first heard mumblings from Mozilla about this “Open app store” for the web back in May, only one day after Google announced its own app store for its Chrome browser and web-based Chrome OS. Google’s store is expected to make its full debut soon. The apps in Google’s store will be optimized for Chrome and may not work in other browsers, but Mozilla’s approach will list apps that work on “any modern browser with support for basic HTML technologies” — including mobile browsers. Mozilla says it will let each browser vendor dictate how it presents the app dashboards and management features.

So, app stores for web apps?

It doesn’t make much sense when coupled with what we’ve seen of “traditional” app stores — the ones popular in the mobile world, like those for Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices. But unlike those app stores, which actually involve downloading a package and installing it for offline use, a web app store is simply a directory of apps that are hosted on web servers.

In Mozilla’s model, users browse the app listings, where everything is categorized and rated. Developers can also host their own apps. Users click “install” on the ones they want, and those apps are added to a dashboard inside their browser.

It’s been mocked up for Firefox, and it looks something like this:

In the dashboard, you can manage how apps access your personal information, or uninstall them. Users don’t have to use the dashboard. They also have the option of saving a link on their desktop or mobile home screen for a single-click launch.

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File Under: HTML5, Web Apps

Take a Peek Into Rumpetroll’s HTML5 Pond

On Monday, we told you about Rumpetroll, the bizarre web app that turns a regular old chat room into a pool of swimming, talking tadpoles.

It uses HTML5 Canvas, WebSockets, JavaScript and CSS 3 to power all of the interactions and the front end. So if you have a browser that supports these technologies — currently, that’s Chrome, Safari 5 or Firefox 4 Beta — check it out.

We pinged team Rumpetroll, asking how they created the unique app. Hans Petter and Hugo Ahlberg, two of the designers, wrote back with some of the technical details.

We’ll let Hans walk us through it:

Our project started on a whim just a few weeks ago when Hugo tweeted that he had secured (He’s Swedish and finds the word immensely witty) and Daniel Mahal figured he’d create some content for the site.

Daniel, Simen Brekken and Hans Petter work in an interactive agency ( and Hugo is in the midst of launching his mobile web app startup. So as developers and designers who do this stuff for a living, we figured it’d be a great project to explore what modern browsers can do that is not yet viable for commercial projects. All without plugins. It even supports the iPad if you have iOS 4.2 beta. (The current Mobile Safari does not support WebSockets.)

Swimming around alone was interesting for a minute. But when joined by schools and schools of actual virtual tadpoles, it became inexplicably entertaining.

We use WebSockets to keep the connection between browser and server alive at all times, this makes it really fast. One tadpole sends at most five updates per second to the server, which in turn broadcasts it to every other tadpole. The WebSocket server is implemented in Ruby with the glorious EventMachine and em-websocket. HTML files are hosted on Mediatemple and the WebSocket server runs on a Joyent SmartMachine. The virtual pond is drawn with the HTML5 Canvas element.

You may think of WebSockets as turbocharged Ajax, And it will probably have a huge impact on the future of the web.

The project is open and hosted on github, and we’d love contributions. Certainly anyone who’ve spent two minutes in the pond must have at least ten ideas for it.

I like his observation that WebSockets is sort of like a “turbocharged Ajax.” In a sense it is — WebSockets allows services to keep running in the background and can provide updates to the browser without requiring the user to touch anything. Of course, they are technically not the same thing, but it’s a good high-level analogy.

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File Under: CSS, HTML5, JavaScript, Web Apps

Chat With Other Tadpoles in Rumpetroll

This may be the most bizarre chatroom ever created.

It’s called Rumpetroll. In Norwegian, the word means “tadpole,” but the literal translation is “ass troll.” It’s a very clever name, as Rumpetroll is a chat room.

Enter, and you’re dropped into a color-shifting primordial soup with a bunch of other tadpoles (that also happen to look like sperm). Click around with your mouse to swim around and join up with other groups. Type to chat, and enter “name: Mike” to give your tadpole/sperm a display name.

The visual environment is powered by Canvas, JavaScript and CSS 3. It also uses WebSockets, a technology which allows persistent client-server connections. It exemplifies how web standards can be used to write a front-end that turns the most banal and simple web app into something unique and interesting.

Because of these leading-edge technologies, you’ll need a modern browser like Chrome, Firefox 4 or Safari 5.

I’ve been hanging out in Rumpetroll all morning. I’ve gone on some fruitless adventures into the abyss. I also met some Russians. I’ve even encountered a few users who have learned how to hack the site’s JavaScript to increase the size of their tadpole, or speed it up so they can fly around at amazing speeds.

The creators are four hackers from Oslo, Norway: Daniel Mahal, Hans Petter Eikemo, Hugo Ahlberg and Simen Brekken. Kudos!

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