All posts tagged ‘firefox’

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Web Standards

Mozilla: WebRTC is the Real Future of Communications

WebRTC blasts off. Image: Tsahi Levent-Levi/Flickr.

The first release of Firefox with support for WebRTC is right around the corner and Mozilla is encouraging web developers to go ahead and start experimenting with what Mozilla refers to as “the real future of communications.”

WebRTC is a proposed standard — currently being refined by the W3C — with the goal of providing a web-based set of tools that any device can use to share audio, video and data in real time. It’s still in the early stages, but WebRTC has the potential to supplant Skype, Flash and many device-native apps with web-based alternatives that work in your browser.

WebRTC support is already baked into Firefox for Android. Both the getUserMedia API and the PeerConnection API — key components of WebRTC and the cornerstones of web-based voice chat — are already supported though you’ll need to enable them in the preferences. See the Mozilla hacks blog for more details.

The same APIs are also now part of desktop Firefox in both the Nightly and Aurora channels. Expect both to make the transition from Nightly to final release as part of Firefox 22 (due some 10 weeks from now).

As Adam Roach, who works on Mozilla’s WebRTC team, writes, with these tools landing and some impressive demos from both the Firefox and Chrome WebRTC teams, “it’s tempting to view WebRTC as ‘almost done,’ and easy to imagine that we’re just sanding down the rough edges right now. As much as I’d love that to be the case, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

That’s part of why Mozilla is asking developers to start experimenting with WebRTC — to help discover what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be better.

“As long as you’re in a position to deal with minor disruptions and changes; if you can handle things not quite working as described; if you are ready to roll up your sleeves and influence the direction WebRTC is going, then we’re ready for you,” writes Roach.

But it isn’t just experimenters that Mozilla is interested in, “for those of you looking to deploy paid services, reliable channels to manage your customer relationships, mission critical applications: we want your feedback too,” says Roach. He goes on to caution that developers should “temper your launch plans.”

Still, while it’s perhaps too early to launch a serious business built around WebRTC, you won’t have to wait long. According to Roach, WebRTC will be “a stable platform that’s well and truly open for business some time next year.”

Mozilla Reconsiders, May Support WebP Image Format

WebP versus JPEG. Click the image to see the full size examples on Google’s WebP comparison page. Image: Google[/caption]

Want your website to load faster? Slim your images. According to the HTTPArchive, images account for roughly 60 percent of total page size. That means the single biggest thing most sites can do to slim down is to shrink their images.

We recently covered how you can cut down your website’s page load times using Google’s image-shrinking WebP format. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to WebP is that only Opera and Chrome support it. But that may be about to change — Firefox is reconsidering its decision to reject WebP.

The change of heart makes sense since most of the objections Firefox developers initially raised about WebP have since been addressed. However, Firefox hasn’t committed to WebP just yet. As Firefox developer Jeff Muizelaar writes on the re-opened bug report, “just to be clear, no decision on adopting WebP has been made. The only thing that has changed is that we’ve just received some more interest from large non-Google web properties which we never really had before.”

Whatever the case, if Firefox does land support for WebP it would help the fledgling format cross the line where more browsers support it than don’t, which tends to be the threshold for wider adoption.

If you’d like to experiment with WebP today, while still providing fallbacks for browsers that don’t support it, be sure to check out our earlier write-up.

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

Mozilla Imagines a Brave New Multi-Core Firefox With ‘Servo’

‘Servo,’ bring Firefox into the massive, parallel future. Image: Andreas Levers/Flickr

Google may be forking the WebKit rendering engine to speed up Chrome, but Mozilla has unveiled a somewhat more ambitious long-term plan to speed up Firefox — rewriting the rendering engine from the ground up.

Mozilla wants future versions of Firefox to be able to “take advantage of tomorrow’s faster, multi-core, heterogeneous computing architectures,” writes Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich on the company’s blog. To make that happen Mozilla is developing a new browser engine dubbed Servo.

While Servo is likely several years from being a finished product, it’s an important step in the direction of faster browsers and more capable web apps. Right now you can throw all the cores you want at Firefox, but sadly it won’t be any faster because it isn’t threaded. Servo will help Mozilla build a multi-threaded version of Firefox that will not just speed up the browser, but could enable a whole new class of web apps.

Samsung’s involvement in the project also hints at another reason for Servo — a more powerful engine behind Mozilla’s mobile Firefox OS.

Servo is not an extension of Gecko, Firefox’s current rendering engine, but an entirely new beast written specifically to take advantage of modern, massively parallel processing hardware.

Servo is written in Mozilla’s homegrown Rust programming language, a C++ style language that attempts to provide more security by avoiding memory corruption and buffer overflows, a common attack vector in today’s browsers. Eich calls Rust “safe by default” and says that Rust will stop “entire classes of memory management errors”, helping to eliminate a common cause of not just security flaws, but browser crashes.

As part of the announcement Mozilla has released Rust 0.6, which contains code contributed by Samsung in its effort to port Rust to ARM processors and Android. For more on Rust, check out the project’s website and FAQ or browse the code on GitHub.

It’s going to be a little while, but in a not too distant future Servo may bring a speedy new Firefox to a tablet or phone near you.

File Under: Browsers

Latest Version of Firefox Brings Better Privacy Controls

Firefox 20 offers an easier way to avoid prying eyes. Image: Andy Roberts/Flickr

Mozilla turned 15 this week and the company is celebrating with a new release of its flagship Firefox web browser.

If you’re already using Firefox the latest version should arrive shortly. If you’d like to take the latest release for a spin, head on over to Mozilla’s download page.

Among the new features in Firefox 20 is a revamped per-window private browsing mode. The new private browsing mode mirrors what you’ll find in Google’s Chrome browser and is really how Firefox’s private browsing mode should have been all along.

Now when you want to start a private browsing session in Firefox you simply select the new “New Private Window” menu option. That will open a new window noting that Firefox will discard any history, search history, download history, web form history, cookies, or temporary internet files for sites you visit in that window. Any files you download and pages you bookmark will be kept.

The new per-window model is much more intuitive than the old method of private browsing which put your normal browsing session on hold, hid it away somewhere and opened a new, private session. Now it’s easy to have private windows right alongside normal windows, very handy for those who, for example, need to log in to two different Gmail accounts simultaneously.

The other major visible change in Firefox 20 is the redesigned downloads window. Mozilla proposed the new download toolbar button and overlay window design so long ago that Apple’s Safari browser has already long since copied and released its own version.

While Firefox might not be the first to get its proposed downloads interface to the web, it’s welcome nonetheless and alleviates the need to cycle through windows or hit keyboard shortcuts just to see if your downloads are done. The button also helpfully converts to a progress bar when you’re actually downloading something.

To see additional info beyond what’s available in the new overlay, just click the “show all downloads” button at the bottom of the list.

One interesting aspect of the new “Show All Downloads” window is that you may discover your history of downloaded files is larger than you think. If you’ve been clearing your download history by clicking the “Clear List” button in the old downloads window, well, that button was quite literal — it just cleared the list. It didn’t actually remove anything from your downloads history. This can be incredibly good news if you’ve misplaced a file or slightly disconcerting if you thought you were deleting references to any sensitive files you may have downloaded. To really clear your downloads be sure to use Firefox’s “Clear Recent History” menu, which has an option to actually delete everything in your download history.

It’s also worth noting that the new downloads manager works with the private browsing mode as well. You can manage downloads within private windows via a separate downloads interface which is then scrubbed when the private session is closed.

For more details on everything that’s new in the revamped download dialog, read through Firefox developer Mike Conley’s post on the new download manager.

Firefox 20 has a few goodies under the hood for web developers, including support for WebRTC‘s getUserMedia API, which allows developers to access the user’s camera and microphone (with permission) for things like Skype-style video calls. The stable release of Firefox still doesn’t offer full support for WebRTC, but future releases will continue to add more features over time.

For more details on everything that’s new in Firefox 20 — including some speed improvements for page loads and downloads — see Mozilla’s release notes.