All posts tagged ‘firefox’

Mozilla Blends Social API, WebRTC for More Social Apps

Mozilla is making good on its promise to take its fledgling Social API beyond the simple Facebook integration it showcased for the launch of Firefox 17. In fact, the company’s newest Social API demo removes the need for social websites entirely, tapping emerging web standards to create a real-time video calling, data sharing app — one part Skype, one part Facebook, all parts web-native.

The direct peer-to-peer video calls and file sharing features come from WebRTC, a proposed web standard that Mozilla and others are working on in conjunction with the W3C. The RTC in WebRTC stands for Real-Time Communications, and the core of WebRTC is the getUserMedia JavaScript API, which gives the browser access to hardware features like the camera and microphone.

Much of the enthusiasm around WebRTC comes from the fact that it enables web apps to do many of the same things that, without WebRTC support, require platform-native APIs. WebRTC will help developers build web apps that can compete with native apps, but it has other tricks up its sleeve — like a whole new way to connect with your friends on the web.

“While many of us are excited about WebRTC because it will enable several cool gaming applications and improve the performance and availability of video conferencing apps, WebRTC is proving to be a great tool for social apps,” writes Mozilla’s Maire Reavy on the Mozilla blog.

Reavy goes on to paint a picture of seamless social sharing through WebRTC and Mozilla’s Social API:

Sometimes when you’re chatting with a friend, you just want to click on their name and see and talk with them in real-time. Imagine being able to do that without any glitches or hassles, and then while talking with them, easily share almost anything on your computer or device: vacation photos, memorable videos — or even just a link to a news story you thought they might be interested in — simply by dragging the item into your video chat window.

Mozilla’s Social API-WebRTC mashup goes beyond previous demos, using a new WebRTC feature, one which Firefox is the first to support, DataChannels. DataChannels offer a way to send data from one WebRTC-enabled browser to another. DataChannels can send pretty much any data the browser can access, be it images, videos, webpages or local files.

For more details on how the DataChannel API works, check out this earlier post on the Mozilla Hacks blog. If you’d like to see exactly what’s happening behind the scenes of Mozilla’s Social API-WebRTC demo, the code is available on GitHub.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Multimedia

Firefox for Android, Now With Video That ‘Just Works’

H.264 video in Firefox for Android. Image: Scott Gilbertson.

Mozilla has added support for the H.264 video codec to its Firefox for Android mobile web browser.

Right now support is limited to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and Samsung phones running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Mozilla is working to fix some bugs that currently prevent H.264 from working on other devices. Support for older Gingerbread and Honeycomb Android devices is still in the works.

This is the first time Mozilla has released a web browser with support for the popular H.264 codec. The company previously refused to support H.264, citing royalty and licensing concerns. Instead Mozilla touted Google’s WebM codec, which offers many of the benefits of H.264 in a royalty-free package. Unfortunately for Firefox fans WebM has failed to gain ground against H.264.

Adobe’s Flash Player plugin can also play H.264 video and, until Adobe decided to abandon Flash for Android, that was Mozilla’s solution for H.264 video in Firefox for Android.

With WebM adoption lagging and Flash for Android dead, Mozilla found itself in a bind. Some estimates claim up to 80 percent of video on the web is encoded in H.264, forcing Mozilla to choose between supporting H.264 on Android or leaving Firefox users with no way to watch video on mobile devices. Fortunately for Firefox users, Mozilla decided to be practical and support H.264.

Technically the new H.264 support is not a part of Firefox, rather the browser is tapping into Android’s underlying H.264 support to decode video. That means royalty payments are covered by hardware makers, not Mozilla.

I tested Firefox for Android’s H.264 on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.1 and for the most part H.264 video worked without issue. Some popular video sharing sites, however, appear to be doing OS/browser detection rather than feature detection — I’m looking at you Vimeo — which means that, even though your phone can play the video, Vimeo thinks it can’t.

Hopefully Vimeo and other sites doing the same thing will fix this soon because Mozilla is planning to bring the same H.264 support to the desktop. As with Firefox for Android, desktop Firefox won’t have its own decoder, but will rely on OS-level H.264 decoders. For end users though the result will be the same — video that just works.

File Under: Browsers

IonMonkey, Retina Support Make for a Faster, Sharper Firefox

Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired

With Firefox 17 out the door, Mozilla is turning its attention to Firefox 18, which is now available in the Firefox beta channel. The focus for this release is speed, with Mozilla set to deliver a new faster JavaScript JIT compiler dubbed IonMonkey.

If you’d like to switch to Firefox’s beta channel, just head over to the beta downloads page.

IonMonkey will replace TraceMonkey and join JagerMonkey as one of the two JIT compilers that make up Firefox’s SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine. Too many monkeys? Here’s the bottom line: Firefox 18 has a faster JIT compiler, which means JavaScript-heavy web apps, games and pages like Gmail should be faster.

If you’d like to know more about the finer points of Firefox’s various JavaScript monkeys, check out this earlier post by Mozilla developer David Mandelin and this series of posts on the Mozilla blog, which get into all the gory details of Firefox’s JavaScript optimization tools.

There are quite a few new features for web developers in this release, including support for the CSS 3 @supports rule I wrote about yesterday. Firefox 18 also supports the latest CSS 3 Flexible Box Model syntax, though it’s disabled, ahem, out of the box. To test out your Flexbox layout in Firefox 18, open up about:config and search for “flexbox.”

Developers working on nice shiny new Mac laptops will be happy to hear that Firefox beta now supports Retina Displays.

The security-conscious have cause to celebrate as well: Firefox 18 has, at long last, landed a setting to disable insecure content on secure websites. It’s off by default since it would probably break a lot of websites (mixing HTTP and HTTPS content on the same page is, sadly, quite common), but if you’d like to give it a try, head to about:config and search for “mixed” which will bring up the relevant options.

For more details on everything that’s new in Firefox beta, be sure to read through Mozilla’s release notes. If you’d rather not use beta-quality software for your everyday browsing, you’ll need to wait until second week of January when Firefox 18 is scheduled to arrive.

File Under: Browsers

Mozilla Brings Social to the Browser With Firefox 17

Firefox 17, now with more Facebook. Image: Mozilla.

Mozilla has released Firefox, 17 which includes support for the company’s new Social API. For this release Mozilla worked with Facebook to create Facebook Messenger for Firefox — a Firefox sidebar that brings your Facebook updates with you wherever you go on the web.

If you’re already using Firefox, the browser should update the next time you restart. If you’d like to test out Firefox’s new Social API features, head over to the Firefox downloads page and grab the latest release.

As we noted when the beta was released, the new Social API features are entirely opt-in. To see the new Facebook Messenger for Firefox you’ll need to visit the Facebook Messenger for Firefox page and click “Turn On.”

Once you’ve turned it on you’ll see a new social sidebar with Facebook chat and updates, like new comments and photo tags. Any new messages or friend requests will trigger notifications and you can reply right from the toolbar. There’s also a new “like” button in the URL bar for sharing websites that haven’t yet added their own “like” buttons.

The new Social API extends the App Tabs concept Mozilla debuted back in Firefox 4. App Tabs give websites a more permanent place in your browser window. Web apps like email, document editors or news feeds are easier to use when they get a special spot in your browser. The Social API extends that idea, bringing social websites out of tabs completely and into a persistent sidebar that you can access without the need to switch tabs or log in.

At the moment “social websites” means Facebook since Mozilla partnered with the company to build out the first Social API example, but it’s not hard to imagine Twitter building something similar. Perhaps even more interesting would be websites not typically considered “social networks”, but which could nevertheless tap into the Social API to build interesting tools. Imagine, for example, a GitHub sidebar with all your project updates and pull requests.

Giving social websites a cozier spot in your browser might sound like a privacy can of worms, but Tom Lowenthal, of Mozilla’s Privacy and Public Policy team, assures users that nothing has changed regarding the privacy of your data. “These pages are treated just as if you’d loaded them in another browser tab,” he writes. That means Facebook is tracking what you do, but no more so than if you logged into the site without the new Social features. In other words, just because Facebook is persistent in the sidebar doesn’t mean it has access to any additional information from your browser.

Firefox 17 marks the second of what Mozilla calls “Extended Support Release” (ESR), a version of Firefox that Mozilla supports a bit longer than usual so that organizations like schools and large businesses have the support they need for mass deployments. The last ESR release was Firefox 10, so there’s a ton of new features in store for those who’ve been sticking with the ESR releases.

Mozilla has been working hard on Firefox’s developer tools over the last several Firefox releases and Firefox 17 adds even more new stuff, including live HTML editing.

The Style panel has long allowed developers to manipulate the styles on a page and the new Markup panel can now pull the same trick with the DOM in real time. Got a client that wants to re-write the homepage copy? No problem, just start typing. Live previews mean you can quickly prototype ideas without diving into your actual HTML templates or even opening a text editor and starting the save-and-refresh dance.

The developer tools in Firefox 17 now look a bit more like what you’ll find in other browsers. Selecting HTML elements on the page no longer draws a dark “veil” over everything else. The veil nicely isolated elements, but it often made it difficult to work with surrounding elements. There’s been an option to turn off the background dimming for some time, but now the dimming is gone for good. Instead highlighted elements are outlined with a dashed line and the “node toolbar” which appears below the selected element.

There are several other new tools for web developers in this release, including a revamped Web Console and a smarter debugger. See our earlier coverage of the Aurora release and the Mozilla hacks blog for more details on everything that’s new.

For more on everything else that’s new in Firefox 17, including the new click-to-play policy, which prevents vulnerable plugins from running without the user’s permission, head on over to the Mozilla blog or read through the Firefox 17 release notes.

File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Mobile

Mozilla Tempts Mobile Developers With Firefox OS Simulator

Firefox OS’s home screen, dialer and web browser. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Mozilla has released a new version of its experimental Firefox OS Simulator. The Firefox OS Simulator (which also goes by the nerdtastic nickname r2d2b2g) is a new add-on for Firefox that makes it easy for web developers who would like to get their hands dirty building apps for Mozilla’s coming mobile Firefox OS.

Mozilla’s Firefox OS is still in the very early alpha stages, but if you’d like to test your apps in the latest version of the Simulator, head on over to the download page (note that there are known issues running the simulator on Linux and Windows XP).

Firefox OS is Mozilla’s answer to the question how does Firefox stay relevant in an increasingly mobile world? Locked out of Apple’s iOS due to the platform’s developer limitations and only recently beginning to create a truly competitive browser on Android, Mozilla’s long term mobile plan is to create its own mobile operating system built entirely on open web technologies.

Although the company has since switched to the “Firefox OS” moniker, the original name, Boot2Gecko, neatly captures Mozilla’s take on the mobile operating system — essentially turning the Firefox web browser into an operating system.

Applications built for Firefox OS use nothing more than web development tools — everything is made with HTML, CSS and JavaScript — which then run atop Firefox’s Gecko rendering engine.

To make it possible to create full-featured mobile apps with only HTML and other web tools, Mozilla is relying heavily on device-level APIs to tap into everything from dialing phone numbers to listing contacts, taking photos and getting Wi-Fi information. Not all of the APIs Firefox OS uses are web standards yet, though Mozilla has submitted most of them to the W3C for consideration.

Mozilla hardly has a monopoly on using web tools to build mobile apps; that was Apple’s original plan for iOS and it’s also exactly what tools like Phonegap or Cordova allow you to do for iOS, Android and other mobile platforms. The difference with Firefox OS is that you don’t need to package your app up in a native container — there’s no need for Phonegap and its ilk.

While Firefox OS may use familiar web development technologies and may run on the same Gecko engine that already powers the Firefox web browser, developers still need a way to test their apps in a mobile environment, which is where the Firefox OS Simulator comes in.

To get started with the Simulator, first open up the “Simulator Manager” by selecting the new Firefox OS Simulator option in the Firefox Web Developer menu. In the Simulator Manager you’ll find controls to start and stop the Simulator and a JS Console option to see any error messages as you develop.

For more on how to get started using the Simulator and building apps for Firefox OS, see the Mozilla Hacks blog, especially the very thorough tutorial from Mozilla community member Luca Greco, who walks through nearly the entire process of building and testing an app on Firefox OS.