All posts tagged ‘Microsoft’

File Under: Browsers

Internet Explorer 9 Beta Drops. It’s Lean, Fast and Modern

Internet Explorer 9 Beta on the Windows 7 desktop

Microsoft will release the first beta version of its new Internet Explorer web browser Wednesday morning.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta will be made available for download shortly after it is announced at a launch event in San Francisco, around 10:00am Pacific time. We’ll post a download link for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users as soon as we have one.

The final version of IE9 is still some months off — Microsoft wouldn’t commit to a definite time frame for the browser’s release when we asked. But we’ve spent a few days in IE9 Beta’s company, and so far, it has proven to be a thoroughly modern machine. The world’s most-sed browser is getting a new look, much expanded support for HTML5 and other 21st century web technologies, and a big speed boost.

Quite a change. Microsoft has a reputation for being an also-ran when it comes to browser innovation. When IE8 arrived in March 2009, we found it rich in features, but lacking in support for the emerging standards powering the shiny apps that make the web exciting. IE8 was faster and more secure than its predecessor, but when it came to speed and productivity, it wasn’t up to snuff with its peers — Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. In fact, it was a bit of a snooze.

A year and a half on, Microsoft has smelled the coffee and is wide awake at the wheel. IE is fit to play in the same league as the other browsers.

Keep in mind, IE9 Beta is still pre-release code, so it may not run perfectly. But there’s enough new going on here — especially that speed boost — to make the download a must for the curious who want a taste of IE’s future.

A new look

The most striking difference between this browser release and the IEs of old is the new user interface. It’s sleek and minimal, and — what are those? — it now has the inverted top-tabs, which are quickly becoming common.

We first caught wind of this design change when a screenshot of the new IE9 leaked onto the web. It decreases the amount of real estate the browser consumes on screen and makes way for more content.

Another shot of IE9 Beta. Click for larger.

“The browser is the stage and the backdrop, but the website is the star of the show,” Microsoft general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch tells Wired. “We think the browser should totally take a back seat to the sites.”

Freeing up those extra pixels with a minimal top bar is a path others in the industry are taking. Chrome shipped with the tabs-on-top look two years ago, Mozilla has adopted it for Firefox 4, and Safari has flirted with in the past. Opera offers a few different choices for where to put your tabs.

Other notable details: a unified search and URL bar (a la Google Chrome) where you can get search suggestions as you type. Bing is the default, but you can add Google, Wikipedia or a host of other engines. There’s also an enlarged back button, (a la Firefox) and a noticeable lack of menu items in the main bar. Something else new in IE9 is the New Tab window with thumbnails of your most commonly-visited sites, which looks much like what you’ll find in Safari, Chrome and Opera. A nice addition here is a little bar in each thumbnail that shows how much time you’ve spent on each site.

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File Under: Browsers, HTML5

Microsoft’s Sticky Position: Silverlight or HTML5?

Microsoft is deeply invested in two key technologies for building web apps: its Silverlight runtime, which requires a plug-in to work in web browsers, and HTML5, which has many of the same key capabilities, but is plug-in-free, is friendlier to mobile devices and will be heavily supported in the next version of Internet Explorer.

Tech blogger Tim Anderson has written a couple of posts Thursday speculating how Microsoft should “sell” the Sliverlight story to developers who are excited about HTML5 and the coming advancements in Internet Explorer 9.

The first post has some candid remarks from former Microsoft Silverlight product manager Scott Barnes, where he says, in some cryptic tweets, that there’s “a faction war” happening inside Microsoft over HTML5 and Silverlight.

According the Anderson, Microsoft is having an increasingly hard time positioning Silverlight as an attractive option for developers who see that HTML5 can do much of the same stuff. IE9 beta is due this month. It will offer hardware acceleration and direct access to the Windows 7 desktop, plus all of the other capabilities of a modern browser, like super-fast JavaScript performance. So, it’s not going to get any easier.

The Silverlight team has been on the defensive recently, with Microsoft’s head of developer platforms Brad Becker arguing last week that Silverlight does indeed have a place on the HTML5-powered web, where it’s used to power rich apps like games, teleconferencing apps, and DVR-like streaming apps. There is no doubt, though, that the web is catching up.

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File Under: Location, Web Apps

Microsoft Adds OpenStreetMap Layer to Bing Maps

You can now turn on a special layer in Bing Maps that displays maps from OpenStreetMap, Microsoft has announced.

OpenStreetMap is an open source mapping project that keeps an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits to the map — it’s been nicknamed the “Wikipedia of maps.” The open source model has proven especially effective in regions of the developing world where very little solid map data exists, and in areas where highly detailed, editable maps are critical for natural-disaster response efforts, like the recent Haiti earthquake.

Microsoft’s adoption of the open source mapping project follows a similar move by MapQuest, which began adding OSM layers last month.

To run layers in Bing Maps, you’ll need the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight and a supported browser. It doesn’t work properly in Google Chrome (at least on the Mac), but IE8, Firefox and Safari had no problems. If you’re using the Ajax controls to view Bing Maps (instead of Silverlight), then you won’t be able to see the OpenStreetMaps layer, but Microsoft says this is something that may make its way into the non-Silverlight version eventually.

Use the map view switcher at the bottom to change layers.

To add OpenStreetMaps to your Bing, go to the App Gallery. Look for the new OpenStreetMaps app in the gallery. Click on it, and your alternative OpenStreetMaps view should launch within Bing Maps.

You can switch back to any of the other standard views in Bing Maps by clicking on the layer control at the bottom of the map window. You’ll notice Bing Maps is using the Mapnik build of OpenStreetMaps for its map layer. You can switch back and forth between the OSM layer and any of the other standard Bing maps layers using the same control.

Microsoft has been quickly adding some innovative features to Bing, especially on its Maps website. In June, Bing Maps added the ability to browse parts of the world in 3-D, and in February it demonstrated indoor panorama views and location-specific videos that are accessible within Bing’s street-side imagery.

Microsoft also ran its King of Bing maps challenge for developers last month, asking them to create innovative apps for the mapping platform. For the contest, a developer named Ricky Brundritt built an app for Bing Maps that estimates your taxi fare within most major U.S. cities.

However, Bing’s reliance on Microsoft’s proprietary Silverlight technology to power these innovations is seen by some as an alienating factor — and an unnecessary one at that, since other mapping platforms like Google Maps accomplish much of the same functionality using JavaScript and other web standards. This is especially important on mobile devices, where the most popular browsers don’t allow for plug-ins like SIlverlight.

Still, it’s heartening to see Bing adding to the momentum OpenStreetMaps is currently enjoying. Anyone can edit the OSM maps, and now that the project is getting some attention — thanks mostly to its efforts in Haiti — edits are coming in more quickly.

According to the latest stats, the project has over a quarter of a million participants and over 1.8 billion uploaded GPS points. Dedicated users are getting creative and finding ways to add even more detail to the existing maps by doing offbeat things like tagging wheelchair ramps, mailboxes and trees in their neighborhoods.

Taxi Fare Calculator link courtesy Mashable

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File Under: Software, Web Apps

Meet WebMatrix, Microsoft’s New Suite For Painless Web Development

Microsoft has unveiled a new all-in-one web development suite called WebMatrix.

It’s more than an IDE or a framework, it’s a whole suite — a web server, a SQL database, and a database-ready framework, all wrapped up into a single development environment that makes it easy to build, test and deploy some fairly complex web apps.

WebMatrix is free, and it’s available for Windows users as a beta download.

The new suite is especially geared towards developers building web apps that require local data storage. It’s pretty flexible, and you can also use it to build simple websites, then scale up to something mid-weight or incorporate a full-scale app that you could run a business on top of.

The WebMatrix suite is made up of three components: the lightweight Windows-based web server called IIS Express, SQL Server Compact Edition, a simple database server, and Razor, a new templating language based on ASP.NET. The beta version you can download today actually doesn’t have Razor, but it will be included in a future release “later this month,” according to Microsoft.

The three key technologies were previously announced by Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s VP of its Developer Division. Now, with the launch of WebMatrix, Guthrie has introduced a few new components.

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File Under: Browsers, HTML5

Google Updates Chrome Frame Add-On for Internet Explorer

Google has released a significant update to its controversial Chrome Frame, an Internet Explorer plug-in that replaces the default IE rendering engine with the engine that powers Google’s Chrome browser.

Chrome Frame essentially embeds Google’s browser inside any tab or window within Internet Explorer. It forces IE to load a website using the same WebKit rendering engine as Google Chrome, complete with its enhanced JavaScript rendering and support for HTML5 technologies like embedded audio and video.

Previously only available as a “developer preview,” the new version of Chrome Frame has been updated to beta status. Chrome Frame’s underlying code has also been updated to match the Chrome 5 browser, which means Chrome Frame can now handle more HTML5 features like better audio and video playback, Canvas animations, geolocation, Web Workers, WebSocket connections and offline databases.

Chrome Frame now also integrates with IE more closely, meaning that the add-on now works with IE’s InPrivate browsing mode, and that clearing cookies and cache in IE will now also clear out the same elements in Chrome Frame.

If you’re stuck with IE 6 at work, but you want to see the latest and greatest the web has to offer, Chrome Frame makes for a decent solution. The only downside to Chrome Frame is that it will only be triggered on websites that have explicitly enabled it using a special meta tag. Of course, all of Google’s sites are on that short list, so you can at least experience some cool cutting-edge stuff like drag-and-drop in Gmail, geolocation in Google Maps, or real-time communication in Google Wave.

Despite the fact that Chrome Frame does not just take over IE, Google’s add-on is not without some degree of controversy. Back when Chrome Frame was first announced, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering, Mike Shaver, warned against the idea, arguing that the Chrome plug-in for IE muddles the user’s understanding of browser security, and in the end will create more confusion and little benefit.

So far those fears haven’t come to pass, but now that Chrome Frame is a beta release, it may begin to see wider use.

Shaver’s main argument — that simply telling users to switch browsers is far better strategy — is still undeniably the best solution. After all, if you’re savvy enough to know about and install Chrome Frame, you’re most likely savvy enough to just upgrade IE or switch to a better browser. But even the most recent version of Internet Explorer, version 8, doesn’t have the same level of capability as Chrome, and Chrome Frame gives IE users an opportunity to play around on the bleeding edge.

Also, there’s a subset of users who need IE 6 for legacy corporate intranets and applications, but also need to interact with today’s web. Given that several Google services — like Google Apps and Google Reader — no longer support IE 6, the day is fast approaching where Chrome Frame will be the only option for those still locked into IE 6 who want to use the newest web apps.

If you’re one of those people, head over to grab the latest version of Chrome Frame.

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