All posts tagged ‘Microsoft’

File Under: Location

Bing Maps Gets a Developer SDK

Microsoft may be a few lengths back in the race to win the online mapping prize, but you can never count Redmond out. The company released an SDK for Bing Maps on Monday, allowing developers to create their own Map Apps for submission into Bing Map Apps gallery (Silverlight is required for that link).

When Microsoft first launched the Bing Map Apps gallery (say that three times fast) a few months ago, it featured interesting geodata mashups from partners like Foursquare, Twitter, Weather.com and TrafficLand.com. These maps provide one or more data layers over whatever map you’re currently looking at, so you can see things like restaurant reviews, geo-tagged tweets, weather camera images and temperature readings or traffic cams. My favorite is the Urban Graffiti tracker from virtualglobetrotting.com which pinpoints places where you can see some cool street art.

Now, anyone can make one of these apps. With the new SDK, developers can create their own geodata overlays using any data set they can get their hands on, then submit their creations to the Map Apps gallery. Microsoft will feature the best submissions and present them to everyone using the Bing search tool. The company says it will also allow advertising in the Map Apps and split the revenue with the creators. There’s a testing tool included in the launch.

The goal of Monday’s release appears to be two-fold: increase interest in Bing Maps, and speed adoption of Silverlight 4, the latest version of Microsoft’s rich media and streaming video platform, and it’s alternative to Adobe Flash.

Everything built with this SDK needs to be done in Silverlight 4. You’ll also need the Silverlight plug-in to view any of Bing’s mapping features — at least version 3 is required for the bing.com/maps website.

It’s a bit of a shame that Microsoft has so deeply baked Silverlight into the Bing maps experience while others — most notably, Google and OpenStreetMap — have managed to create rich, interactive maps using HTML, JavaScript and CSS. But one can’t blame Microsoft for trying to popularize Silverlight at a time when the web is starting to move away from Flash as the de facto standard for presenting rich content in the browser. Even though most of the momentum is going into HTML5, CSS 3 and other open standards, Silverlight stands a chance to win some ground.

Silverlight is currently installed on around 60-65 percent of internet-enabled PCs. Around half of Silverlight’s users are running version 3, with around seven percent running version 4, according to riastats.com.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

New IE9 Preview Features More Speed, Standards Support

Microsoft has released the first update to its Internet Explorer 9 preview. The latest release brings some speed improvements, more standards support, and more hardware acceleration for the browser’s HTML5 features.

To take the new IE9 for a spin, head over to Microsoft’s IETestDrive site and download a copy today. We’ve been testing it for a few hours, and here’s what we’ve noticed.

The best news in this release is that IE9 has already made some significant speed improvements since the first developer preview earlier this year. For example, IE 9 is now on par with Safari, Google Chrome and Opera on the Sunspider JavaScript test, which attempts to measure how a browser will perform on JavaScript-heavy sites like Gmail and Facebook.

Although IE9 is still not the fastest browser when it comes to rendering JavaScript, the difference between it and the competition is small enough that you’re unlikely to notice any difference on real world sites.

Complex diagrams laid out in CSS -- and they actually render the same in several browsers, including the new IE9. Part of the Microsoft's IE9 demo site at ietestdrive.com.

Complex diagrams laid out in CSS -- and they actually render the same in several browsers. Part of the Microsoft's IE9 demo site at ietestdrive.com.

What might be even more encouraging about this release for web developers is Microsoft’s emphasis on ensuring that markup works the same across browsers. Microsoft’s general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch, writes on the IE Blog: “web browsers should render the same markup — the same HTML, same CSS, and same script — the same way… that’s simply not the case today.”

And yes, Hachamovitch does note that IE6 is the main reason that’s true (to which we would also add IE7). But he’s also correct in noting that because HTML5 and CSS 3 support varies by browser, it’s tough to use HTML5 elements or style them with CSS 3 and have your markup behave the same across all platforms and browser.

What works in WebKit browser sometimes fails in Firefox, and vice versa. For CSS 3, developers often need to resort to -webkit or -moz prefixes for newer features.

But while those are annoyances to be sure, they pale next to the real difficulty of cross browser support for new features — legacy IE browsers.

IE9 will improve the situation with support for the HTML5 video tag (though not yet, support for video is slated for the next developer preview), but it will still fall short of matching the HTML5 features in its competitors. Take the Canvas tag, for instance. While IE9 has made strides with SVG support (partly related to Canvas), it still doesn’t support the actual HTML5 Canvas tag. Gecko and WebKit have had support for Canvas for over three years now.

Hachamovitch touts IE9′s JavaScript improvements, which are welcome — for example IE9 will now support DOMContentLoaded, getElementsByClassName, createDocument, and more — but again, for the most part these are things other browsers can already do.

If you want to see IE9 blazing a trail instead of catching up to the pack you’ll need to look at the hardware acceleration features, which rely on DirectX for faster rendering. Mozilla is planning to add hardware acceleration to Firefox, but so far this is one area where IE9 bests the competition.

While the latest developer preview of IE9 leaves much to be desired, it is still a work in progress. IE 9 is already undeniably a much better browser than its predecessors — it’s faster, renders pages according to standards, supports (some) HTML5 and, given the number of people that rely on IE, will help move the web forward.

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Microsoft Says Web Video in IE9 Is All About H.264

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Microsoft’s next browser will support native playback of videos using HTML5, but it will only support H.264, and not its more open alternatives.

In a post on the official IEBlog Thursday, Microsoft’s general manager of Internet Explorer Dean Hachamovitch outlined his company’s position in the ongoing Flash vs. HTML5 video debate. He says that when it comes to playing web videos without plug-ins, Microsoft will support H.264-encoded videos in its browser. He makes no mention of those encoded with Theora or any other codecs, and nobody is expecting Microsoft to support anything other than H.264 — Hachamovitch first mentioned singular support for H.264 in IE9 last month when he showed off an early version of the browser.

The argument over which web video playback technology to support has been a point of major tension among browser makers ever since last year, when the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) bowed out of the debate, declining to recommend any single video technology for HTML5. The result, so far, is a stalemate — Microsoft and Apple are supporting H.264, Mozilla and Opera are supporting Ogg Theora and Google, for the time being, is supporting both.

As we’ve said before, H.264 is a dangerous path for web video to go down, mostly because there are patents and licensing issues associated with it that keep it from being freely used. It should be noted that both Microsoft and Apple — the two main proponents of native H.264 playback in their browsers — hold patents in the H.264 patent pool.

Other technologies, such as Ogg Theora and VP8, appear to be a much safer alternative for video on the web to remain free and open, which is why the browser makers who have no stake in H.264 (Mozilla and Opera) are pushing for Theora.

Google Chrome’s support varies based on platform, and there’s a rumor the company will release the VP8 video technology it now owns under an open source license soon.

Curiously, there’s no mention of Silverlight in Hachamovitch’s post. But he doesn’t tie Flash to the whipping post like so many others have been quick to do. His words on Flash are quite tempered. Diplomatic, even:

Today, video on the web is predominantly Flash-based. While video may be available in other formats, the ease of accessing video using just a browser on a particular website without using Flash is a challenge for typical consumers. Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security, and performance. We work closely with engineers at Adobe, sharing information about the issues we know of in ongoing technical discussions. Despite these issues, Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web.

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File Under: Browsers

IE8 Crashing Too Much? Blame Add-ons, Says Microsoft

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Add-ons account for more than 70 percent of browser crashes in Internet Explorer 8, according to Microsoft.

The company released a whitepaper this week titled “Enhancing the performance of Windows Internet Explorer 8″ that outlines the various factors influencing performance and speed in its flagship browser. The whole report is available for download (as an MS Word .doc file, if you can believe it).

The other 30-odd percent of crashes in IE8 are caused by the browser, one of its subsystems (such as the download manager) or by malware.

When confronted with criticism about performance, especially crashes, browser makers are always quick to point their fingers at add-ons. And rightly so — add-ons are sometimes buggy and poorly tested. As a result, browser makers are now subjecting add-ons to a more rigorous testing process to vet their stability and safety before giving them the stamp of approval.

In a detailed analysis of Microsoft’s report at our sister site Ars Technica, Emil Protalinski argues that the third-party add-on culture around IE isn’t as robust as those surrounding Firefox and Chrome.

Protalinski chalks it up to IE being a poor development platform.

Microsoft’s two biggest competitors in the browser market, Firefox and Chrome, both put a big emphasis on add-ons. Microsoft claims that IE add-ons are very easy to develop and that it made sure the developer tools are not a separate download. That may be true, but IE still isn’t as good an extensibility platform as other browsers: it’s harder for plugins to intercept web traffic and so add-ons like NoScript are much harder to port.

During his keynote address at Microsoft’s recent MIX10 developer event in Las Vegas, IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said that one of his team’s goals is to significantly improve the browser’s extensibility in the next version.

IE9 is due around the end of the year, but you can test drive it right now.

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File Under: Browsers, HTML5

The Trials and Tribulations of Internet Explorer

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Every few months, we see a new set of statistics or a new report showing how Internet Explorer is losing browser share, becoming increasingly irrelevant or dying on the vine. This of course sets off ripples across the tech blogs, which gather into a wave of “Death of IE” posts that we all tweet, Digg and generally take pleasure in passing around and commenting on.

Which is not to say these blog posts are at all wrong or untrue. Internet Explorer is losing browser share, relevance and vitality. And more so lately than ever before — the most recent wave of “IE’s Dead” posts, which hit us this week, includes some sound analysis and stats that show IE is losing serious footing on the open web.

One key event was the inclusion of the browser selection screen for European Windows users, which Microsoft was forced to add following a recent ruling by the EU (We posted a preview of the screen last month). The browser choice screen gives users the option of downloading an alternative browser, and the immediate result of the feature’s rollout was a dip in IE’s market share.

Early data from Quantcast shows an immediate five percent decline. IE’s loss seems to have stabilized at around the three percent mark after a few days, though (maybe some of those who switched actually missed IE). The big winner among browser-makers seems to be Firefox, which saw around a two percent jump after the choice screen debuted.

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