File Under: Browsers, Humor, Visual Design

It’s the End of the ‘Blink’ Tag as We Know It

The end is nigh. Image: Almita Ayon/Flickr.

Mozilla developers are currently debating how to drop support for the much-maligned <blink> tag.

With Opera moving to Google’s new Blink rendering engine, which, despite the name, does not support the blink tag, Mozilla finds itself in the strange position of having the only rendering engine that does in fact parse and display blinking text like it’s 1996.

Originally conceived (and implemented) as a drunken joke, blinking text isn’t just bad usability — usability guru Jakob Nielsen famously called <blink>simply evil” — it can potentially induce seizures. Even if you aren’t prone to seizures, blinking text is downright annoying.

But while few may mourn the passing of the <blink> scourge, really, where would we be without it? Despite never being part of any HTML specification the blink tag managed to take the early web by storm, driven especially by the design prowess of early Geocities homepage creators.

Indeed without <blink> would there have been a Geocities? And without Geocities would there have been a MySpace? And without MySpace would there have been, well, let’s stop there.

Sadly, the end of the blink tag will not mean the end of blinking text on the web. It will ruin this fabulous Twitter Bootstrap theme we’ve had our eye on, but there are still plenty ways to get text to blink — CSS and JavaScript are both, regrettably, up to the task.

So far there’s been little protest about removing <blink> support from Firefox. There’s been some debate as to where or not the CSS 2.1 text-decoration: blink; rule should go with it (yes!), but the tag itself is most likely headed for the dustbin of web history.

File Under: Identity, Web Services

Mozilla Wants to Eliminate Passwords With ‘Persona’

Signing in with Persona. Image: Mozilla.

Mozilla has released a second beta of its distributed online identity system, Mozilla Persona.

The Persona project is Mozilla’s effort to tackle online identity management by eliminating usernames and passwords. Instead, Persona shifts the focus away from individual websites and handles the login details for you, using just your email address.

Among the new features in this release are some speed improvements, integration with Firefox OS and, most importantly, support for signing in with your existing Yahoo webmail account.

It’s the latter feature that just might give Persona the traction it needs to convince more big name sites to support it.

Using the new Yahoo email-based sign-in feature you can sign in to any website that supports Persona without creating a username or password — you just drop in your Yahoo email address and you’re done.

Mozilla calls this Identity Bridging and it’s available now for Yahoo.com email users with other popular webmail providers coming in the future. You can try it out on Mozilla’s demo site — click “Sign in”, enter your Yahoo email address and you’re done. To see what it looks like in action, check out the video below:

For more on Persona and the new features, head on over to the Mozilla blog. If you’d like to see what it takes to support Persona on your site (thankfully it’s much easier than OpenID), the Mozilla Developer Network has a good tutorial.

File Under: Security, Software

Microsoft Gets Ready to Pull the Life Support on Windows XP

That’s the end of the line. Image: Johan Larsson/Flickr

Today marks the first day of the last year of Windows XP’s long and storied life.

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will officially stop supporting Windows XP, meaning there will be no more security updates or other patches. When April 2014 rolls around Microsoft will have supported Windows XP for nearly 12 years.

Should you chose not to upgrade before next year, you will be, in Microsoft’s words “at your own risk” in dealing with security vulnerability and any potential malware designed to exploit them.

According to NetMarketShare, just over 38 percent of PCs connected to the web are still running Windows XP. Given that current XP users have already ignored three OS upgrades, it seems reasonable to assume a significant number of XP diehards still won’t upgrade even now that Microsoft is no longer issuing security updates — all of which adds up to a potentially huge number of vulnerable PCs connected to the web.

NetMarketShare’s OS statistics for March 2013. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Starting around this time next year expect black hat hackers to have a botnet fire sale.

With so many suddenly vulnerable PCs on the web, it’s really only a matter of time before unpatched vulnerabilities are identified and exploited, which could mean a serious uptick in the amount of botnet spam or worse — imagine even a small percentage of those 38 percent of PCs being harnessed for distributed denial of service attacks.

For individual users upgrading Windows XP shouldn’t be too difficult, barring a dependency on software that’s never been updated. If Windows 7 or 8 aren’t to your liking there’s always Linux (I suggest starting with Mint Linux if you’re new to Linux).

Upgrading enterprise and government installations is somewhat more difficult. Microsoft puts the matter quite bluntly on the Windows blog: “If your organization has not started the migration to a modern desktop, you are late.”

The Windows blog post contains quite a few links designed to help anyone looking to upgrade, but at the enterprise/government level it may well be too late anyway. “Based on historical customer deployment data,” says Microsoft, “the average enterprise deployment can take 18 to 32 months from business case through full deployment.”

Windows XP isn’t the only Microsoft product that will be getting the heave-ho this time next year. Internet Explorer 6 on XP, Office 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 2 (newer service packs of Exchange Server 2010 are still supported) will all be cast adrift. It’s also worth noting that this affects virtual machines as well, so if you’ve got a Windows XP virtual machine for testing websites, well, be careful out there.

File Under: Browsers

Future Firefox to Offer More Social, Privacy Choices

Image: Mozilla

The recent release of Firefox 20 means that Mozilla has also updated the various Firefox testing channels — Beta, Aurora and Nightly.

If you’d like to see what’s coming in future versions of Firefox you can grab pre-release versions from Mozilla’s channel downloads page. If you’d like to try out the bleeding edge, you can grab a copy of Firefox Nightly.

Firefox 21 — the current Beta Channel build — features a new option for the Do Not Track privacy header. The Do Not Track header is a proposed web standard for browsers to tell servers that the user does not want to be tracked by advertisers. Instead of the simple “do not track me” or “tracking is okay” options in current releases, Firefox 21 will add a third choice — nothing. That is, starting with Firefox 21, you’ll be able to choose not to decide, effectively turning off the Do Not Track broadcast signal.

Unfortunately, as we’ve highlighted in the past, from a user privacy standpoint Do Not Track is, thus far, pretty much a failure all around. The idea is sound, but because most online ad companies are not planning to interpret the “Do Not Track” header to mean “stop collecting data” and instead plan to simply stop showing you targeted ads, while continuing to collect data and track what you’re doing on the web, whether or not the header is on or off makes little difference to your actual privacy.

Firefox’s Aurora Channel, which has just been updated to Firefox 22, has a more useful privacy enhancement — a setting to only allow cookies from sites you’ve visited. That way you limit cookies (and thus tracking) to sites you actually use.

Aurora will also likely be the first version of Firefox to support the new CSS Flexible Box Model (AKA Flexbox) syntax. See our recent post on using Flexbox for more on how true layout tools promise to change the way web developers work.

Other new features in Aurora include some new developer tools like a font inspector and a download progress indicator in the OS X Dock. See the Firefox 22 release notes for more details.

Provided you’re willing to live with some instability you can grab the latest Firefox Nightlies, which will soon be updated to add some more services to Mozilla’s Social API (currently the Social API only supports Facebook). Unfortunately the new providers aren’t exactly the hottest social networks around, but if you’re using CliqZ, Mixi, MSN Now or Weibo, you’ll soon be able to connect to your friends within Firefox.

Firefox’s various channels are updated every six weeks, which means — assuming no show stopping bugs are found — the features currently in the beta channel will be part of the official release in mid May. Current Aurora features should arrive in final form sometime in early July.

File Under: Browsers

Chrome for Android Eases Mobile Headaches With Password, Form Syncing

Google has updated the stable channel of Chrome for Android to Chrome 26, which offers two new syncing features designed to save you a bit of time on mobile devices.

You can grab the latest version of Chrome for Android from the Google Play Store.

This release has two noteworthy features — password syncing and form autofill syncing. Keeping track of passwords is a pain and let’s face it, most mobile password managers leave much to be desired. With the new Chrome for Android you can sync and access your saved passwords across devices.

Even if you prefer not to have Chrome store your passwords for you, the form autofill syncing is equally handy — especially given how tedious it can be to fill out forms using your mobile device’s tiny keyboard.

Like all of Chrome’s syncing features, you’ll need to be signed into your Google account to use the new password and autofill sync.

This release also fixed a few bugs and offers some modest performance and stability improvements. For more details, see the Chrome blog.