All posts tagged ‘firefox’

File Under: Browsers, Social

Socialfox: New Feature Puts Facebook in Your Firefox

Facebook is in your Firefox (but only if you want it). Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.


Mozilla is rolling out a beta version of its new Social API for Firefox. For this release the company 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’d like to test out Firefox’s new Social API features, head over to the beta channel downloads page and grab the latest release. Then point your browser to Facebook, which will prompt you to install the Facebook Messenger for Firefox.

If you don’t visit Facebook you’ll never know the new Social API exists.

That’s exactly as it should be, according to Mozilla’s Johnathan Nightingale, senior director of Firefox engineering. I spoke to Nightingale ahead of the Social API release and he stressed that the Social API is entirely opt-in by design. “Our plan is not to push anyone into something they don’t want, but to make

easier and better for those that already use it.”

The new Social API can be seen as an extension of the App Tabs Mozilla added to Firefox 4. The App Tabs feature recognizes that all tabs are not equal. Some tabs, like e-mail, document editors or news feeds are easier to use when they get a special spot in your browser. The Social API extends that idea even further, 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.

“Social is not like other things that people do on the internet,” says Nightingale, “it runs as a current through everything they’re doing.” The Social API is designed to make it easier to stay in that current even while you’re visiting other sites. For example, Facebook Messenger for Firefox adds a sidebar that is visible even when you switch tabs. It’s easier to keep up with what’s happening because you see updates rolling in even when you’re browsing other sites. Since constant Facebook updates are annoying when you’re trying to get work done, there’s also a way to hide the sidebar until you want it again.

Facebook’s Social API implementation also adds a “like” button to the address bar, which means you can share a page with your friends on Facebook without leaving that page, which is great for sites that don’t offer their own social sharing buttons.

The Firefox Social API consists of a manifest file and few URLs, but the user interface, the features offered and all the other details are up to the social site itself. For now that’s just Facebook, but Nightingale says Mozilla will add more support for more providers, and eventually even for multiple social sites at once. The idea is to make it easy for any site to build on the Social API, much like the OpenSearch API did for custom search engines.

If you don’t use Facebook there’s nothing to see right now. However, after playing around with the new Facebook Messenger it’s not hard to imagine how other sites might do something similar. Twitter is an obvious example, but the Social API is not limited to just “social networks.” For example, GitHub could create a sidebar with, say, all your project updates and pull requests.

The privacy implications of giving social networks a cozier spot in your browser may make some people nervous, but Tom Lowenthal, of Mozilla’s Privacy and Public Policy team, assures users that nothing has changed regarding your data. “Once enabled, Firefox loads several pages from your social network over secure connections,” writes Lowenthal, “These pages are treated just as if you’d loaded them in another browser tab.”

That means Facebook can set cookies and collect data just like it would if you were logged into the site, but neither Facebook, nor any other social network that builds something with the Social API, will get any special treatment or additional data from Firefox. In other words, just because Facebook is persistent in the sidebar doesn’t mean it has access to any additional information from your browser.

If you’re always logged into Facebook anyway, the new Facebook Messenger for Firefox makes for a smoother, more compelling social network experience. It’s also easy to back out of should you end up disliking it. Those looking for something similar from another social network will just have to wait for those networks to build out their own Social API offerings.

File Under: Browsers, HTML5, Multimedia

Mozilla Plans H.264 Video for Desktop Firefox

Mozilla is getting closer to making H.264 video work in Firefox.

The company’s recently released Firefox for Android already bakes in OS-level support for the H.264 video codec and now Mozilla is adding support to desktop Firefox as well.

Mozilla long opposed supporting the H.264 codec because it’s patent-encumbered and requires licensing fees. It’s also the most popular codec for HTML5 video on the web, which drove Mozilla to swallow its ideals and get practical about adding support to Firefox. Instead of including the codec directly in Firefox, the browser will rely on OS-level tools to play H.264 video.

There’s still no support for H.264 in the current desktop version of Firefox, but as Mozilla CTO, Brendan Eich recently noted on his blog, work is under way and, with the exception of Windows XP, all platforms will get OS-native codec support for H.264 video. Windows XP, which lacks OS-level tools for H.264, will continue to use the Flash plugin to play H.264 movies.

If you’d like to keep track of Mozilla’s progress adding H.264 to the desktop there’s a tracking bug that follows solutions for all the major desktop platforms. Eich does not give an explicit timeline or any hint of when H.264 support might ship with Firefox on the desktop.

The HTML5 video element was supposed to offer a standards-based way to play movies on the web without proprietary plugins like Flash or Silverlight. Unfortunately that dream has failed to pan out. Instead of proprietary plugins, the web ended up with proprietary video codecs, which has created a split in browser support for HTML5 video. Firefox and Opera support the open Ogg and WebM codecs, while Safari and Internet Explorer supported H.264.

Mozilla (and Opera) were against the adoption of H.264 on ideological grounds — H.264 is not an open codec and requires that companies using it pay royalties. But earlier this year the company partially reversed course and said it would support H.264 on devices where the codec is supplied by the platform or implemented in hardware.

In announcing its change of heart with regard to H.264, Eich wrote, “H.264 is absolutely required right now to compete on mobile. I do not believe that we can reject H.264 content in Firefox on Android or in B2G and survive the shift to mobile…. Failure on mobile is too likely to consign Mozilla to decline and irrelevance.”

However, while Mozilla may have abandoned the fight against H.264 in HTML5 video, it has taken up the same banner when it comes to WebRTC. WebRTC is a group of proposed standards that will eventually make web apps capable of many of the same feats that currently require platform-native APIs. In his recent post detailing the progress of H.264 support, Eich says that Mozilla is still focused on “the fight for unencumbered formats” for WebRTC, and promises “more on that front later”.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile

Firefox Aurora Brings Mozilla’s Web-App Marketplace to Android

The Firefox Marketplace in Android. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Mozilla is taking the wraps off the Firefox Marketplace, the company’s new web-app store for Firefox on Android.

Marketplace apps are only available in the newly-updated Firefox for Android 18, which is currently in the Aurora channel. To get Aurora installed on your Android phone you’ll need to be using Android 2.2 or better and make sure that the setting to allow apps from “Unknown sources” is checked. Once that’s done, head to the Aurora mobile download page and grab the latest release.

Once Aurora is installed the new Firefox Marketplace is available under the Options Menu. Choose the “Tools” item and select “Apps”. From there you’ll see a link to the Marketplace.

Given the convoluted installation and pre-beta status of Firefox 18, this release is obviously not meant for everyone. It does, however, offer developers a look at what Mozilla has been creating.

Right now the Firefox Marketplace is still rough around the edges. So far there isn’t even a way to accept payments, one of the much-touted aspects of the Marketplace. Mozilla says that payments and other common app store features like ratings and reviews are coming soon. There are plenty of free apps available already though, including Twitter, Lanyard, Todoist and quite a few games.

Installing an app from the Firefox Marketplace is as simple as clicking a button, which installs the app and adds a shortcut to the Android applications list. Mozilla has done a great job of making web-app installation indistinguishable from native apps on Android.

Firefox apps in the Android app switcher. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

The difference between native and web apps becomes more obvious when you start comparing speed side by side. For example Twitter from the Mozilla Marketplace is noticeably jerkier when scrolling compared to the native Twitter Android client.

It’s worth asking though, even if Firefox Marketplace apps matched native apps in performance, does you need web apps on Android?

The answer for most people is probably going to be no. However, building out the Firefox Marketplace on Android now ensures that the bugs are worked out and that there’s a smoothly functioning app store ready to go when Firefox OS officially launches.

And there are definitely some bugs and quirks in this early release, like the fact that in Android’s app switcher all Firefox Marketplace apps are labeled simply “App” rather than the name of the application, which can make finding what you’re after tricky when you have a lot of apps open at once.

The main purpose of this release is to work out exactly these types of kinks. As Mozilla Labs Engineering Manager Bill Walker writes on the Labs blog, “our goal is to collect as much real-life feedback as possible about the Marketplace’s design, usability, performance, reliability, and content.”

Developers interested in building apps for the Firefox Marketplace should head over to the Mozilla Developer Network and the Marketplace Developer Hub, which contain extensive documentation, FAQs and emulation tools for building Marketplace apps.

File Under: Browsers, Social, Web Services

Mozilla Wants to Put Social Networks in the Browser

Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired

With Firefox 16 out the door — and yes, it has been updated to fix the security vulnerability we wrote about yesterday — Mozilla has begun turning its attention to Firefox 17, which just arrived in the Beta channel.

If you’d like to test Firefox 17, head over to the Firefox channels page and grab a copy.

Firefox 17 introduces the first bit of Mozilla’s plan to bring the social web into the web browser. Firefox 17 lays the groundwork for Mozilla’s new Social API. There’s nothing to see right now, but under the hood Firefox 17 is getting ready to move your social web interactions from individual websites into a sidebar within Firefox.

Among Mozilla’s plans for the new Social API are a notification system, a way to share or recommend content and a dedicated sidebar for news feeds, chat and other aspects of social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s how Mozilla describes its social API:

Much like the OpenSearch standard, the Social API enables developers to integrate social services into the browser in a way that is meaningful and helpful to users. As services integrate with Firefox via the Social API sidebar, it will be easy for you to keep up with friends and family anywhere you go on the Web without having to open a new Web page or switch between tabs. You can stay connected to your favorite social network even while you are surfing the Web, watching a video or playing a game.

If that sounds familiar, well, it should. The “social” web browser Flock offered most of the features Mozilla has planned for the Firefox Social API, but failed to ever find much of an audience and has since been shut down acquired by Zynga and shutdown (while the current Flock website seems to hint that it might return, we wouldn’t recommend holding your breath).

Mozilla is planning to start its own social experimentation with Facebook. The two companies are working to bring Facebook Messenger (Facebook’s chat and SMS app) into Firefox via the new Social API. Look for Facebook Messenger to arrive in Firefox 17 as updates roll out in the coming weeks.

If social network integration isn’t your bag, fear not, Firefox does have a few changes aimed at web developers, most notably the new Markup Panel in the developer tools.

Previously the Markup Panel only allowed you to edit HTML attribute values, but now you can double-click pretty much anywhere in the panel and change just about any bit of HTML you’d like. That means it’s possible to edit pages on the fly in the browser and then copy and paste your changes back to your actual HTML files or templates. For more details on the other new developer tools in Firefox 17, see our earlier write-up of the Aurora channel release.

File Under: Browsers

Mozilla Pulls Firefox 16 Due to Security Flaw [Updated]

Firefox logo[Update: Mozilla has released Firefox 16.0.1, which fixes the security flaw described below. The latest version of Firefox is available from the Mozilla downloads page.]

Just a day after releasing Firefox 16, Mozilla has pulled the update due to a serious security vulnerability.

Mozilla’s Director of Security Assurance, Michael Coates, writes on the Mozilla Security Blog that the company is “working on a fix” and plans to ship an updated version of Firefox 16 “tomorrow”, which would be October 11. At the time of writing the Firefox download page is still offering Firefox 15.

The vulnerability could allow a malicious site to “potentially determine which websites users have visited and have access to the URL or URL parameters.” While Coates says that there is “no indication that this vulnerability is currently being exploited in the wild,” he does suggest downgrading to Firefox 15 as a precaution.

Firefox 15 is unaffected but it’s unclear if the same exploit is present in the later versions of Firefox currently in the Beta, Aurora and Nightly Channels. Of course those are all pre-release versions where bugs and vulnerabilities are expected the crop up.